The president’s efforts to prod Ukraine into conducting investigations to help his re-election are hurting that nation’s defense against Russian aggression. While the emphasis in the U.S. is whether the president was guilty of impeachable conduct, Ukraine has a dangerous war on its hands.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Russia attacked Ukraine in 2014, seized and annexed Crimea, and ever since has been engaged in a deadly proxy war to seize sizable portions of eastern Ukraine. The U.S. has viewed the Russian aggression as a serious threat to American interests and has been Ukraine’s main supplier of military assistance.
Since the fighting began, about 13,000 Ukrainians have died from hostile action. Even though there is a supposed ceasefire in effect, pro-Russian forces committed 60 violations just on Sept. 24. Ukraine desperately needs our help to defend itself. There is no place for domestic U.S. politics in this struggle.
Congress has authorized about $1.5 billion in military aid to Ukraine since 2014. Almost $400 million was approved for release in May 2019 by the Pentagon, based on its certification that the Ukrainian government had “taken substantial actions” toward “decreasing corruption” and “increasing accountability.”
Because the aid package was set to expire on Sept. 30, it was critical to disburse it before then. The aid was urgently needed on the ground for counter-artillery radars, sniper rifles, medical supplies and a wide variety of other essential war-fighting materiel.
Secure communications equipment was desperately needed because the Russians had been using cyber warfare to hack and jam Ukrainian communications--a fundamental necessity on the battlefield. L3 Technologies, an American manufacturer of secure commo systems, had a shipment ready to deliver to Ukraine in July when it received word that a hold had been placed on the order.
It was later learned that our president had personally put a hold on all military assistance to Ukraine the week before his famous phone conversation with President Zelensky on July 15. When the hold was discovered, bipartisan pressure forced the president to release the aid on September 11, just 19 days before it would have expired. As it turns out, there was no legitimate justification for the two-month hold.
As documented in the partial notes of the July 15 telephone call released by the White House, the president requested Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Biden, offering the assistance of Attorney General Barr and Rudy Giuliani.
The conversation was likely applauded by President Putin, as it provided some normalcy for his county’s interference in the 2016 election and a green light for more of the same in 2020. If Trump was inviting Ukrainian intervention in the 2020 election, why couldn’t the Russians do an encore of their dirty work? The conversation also weakened the Ukrainian leader because he came off looking weak, pliable and corruptible.
Putin is also the beneficiary of another Ukraine development. At the same time, Trump was telegraphing the weakening of U.S. military support for Ukraine, our president was pushing Zelensky to make a deal with Putin’s proxy warriors. Most recently, during their meeting at the U.N. on September 25, Trump told a glum-looking Zelensky he “really” hoped Zelensky and Putin could work things out.
Zelensky appears to have concluded that he was holding a weak hand because on October 1 he announced a deal with the proxies to hold a local election in the contested areas to determine their fate. I’m sure the Russians will not try to rig that election. Zelensky’s predecessor, former president Petro Poroshenko, called the deal “a capitulation to Russia,” saying the agreement is “playing into Russia’s hands.” Russia, on the other hand, has applauded the agreement.
I fear we have let the Ukrainian people down. They were making some progress in fighting a two-pronged war against internal corruption and Russian aggression, but appear to have suffered a setback on both fronts with our “help.”
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.