Amidst the furor of new trade tensions with the U.S.’s G7 partners, President Donald Trump let slip the latest in a series of criticisms leveled at former President Barack Obama for allegedly allowing Russia to invade Ukraine.
Obama, according to Trump, was “the one that let Crimea get away,” adding that his predecessor in the White House “allowed Russia to take Crimea. I may have had a much different attitude.”
While the criticism was pointed, it fits a prior pattern of Trump accusing Obama of emboldening Russia to invade Ukraine. Indeed, the criticism mirrors prior comments Trump has made vis-a-vis Obama and Crimea.
Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
For eight years Russia "ran over" President Obama, got stronger and stronger, picked-off Crimea and added missiles. Weak! @foxandfriends
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 7, 2017
Now, added to those criticisms are Trump’s most recent comment on Crimea this weekend.
As the president said about Crimea, “it’s been done a long time.” It was unclear if the president was speaking specifically about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or simply its claims in Crimea. However, in the context of calling to readmit Russia to the G7 — it had been the G8 until Moscow was expelled due to its actions in Ukraine — Trump’s comments appeared to hint that the White House was creeping closer to de jure recognition of Russia’s control of the Ukrainian peninsula.
Trump has insinuated in the past that he’d be open to recognizing Russia’s annexation outright, the first forced annexation in Europe since the outset of World War II. In 2015, Trump distanced the U.S. from the issue, saying the Russian invasion remains “Europe’s problem.”
A year later, Trump leaned even closer to outright recognition — even managing to lend credence to Russian propaganda points on the annexation, which was illegal according to Ukrainian law and which didn’t feature any legitimate election observers. (The peninsula’s indigenous Crimean Tatar population, which had been deported en masse from Crimea under Joseph Stalin, largely boycotted the vote.)
As Trump said in 2016, “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.” Around the same time, Trump added that as president he would be “looking at” recognition.
If Trump does eventually follow through on recognition, he will join a small club of despotic governments and client-states that have supported Russia in Crimea, from North Korea and Kazakhstan to Cuba and Venezuela.
Four years after Moscow announced its annexation of Crimea, here is the entirety of the countries that supported Russia in Ukraine: pic.twitter.com/9zHXS7ZA03
— Casey Michel (@cjcmichel) March 15, 2018
Likewise, if Trump pushes for recognition, he will get plenty of pushback from within his government — an administration that has not only increased the sanctions regime against Russia, but that recently announced the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
In March, on the four-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion, the U.S. State Department released a statement reiterating that “Crimea is part of Ukraine,” and that the U.S. “reaffirm[s] our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”