The Ukrainians are under the gun. Russia grabbed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and has been waging war in the eastern part of that country ever since. The hostilities have taken the lives of over 13,000 Ukrainians. It is obvious that Russia has the upper hand, with significantly more military firepower and cyberwar capability.
The United States recognized that it was in our national security interests to help Ukraine resist Russian aggression and, along with our European partners, we have been providing military and financial support to that beleaguered country. The U.S. also imposed stiff economic sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s henchmen to force the Russians and their proxies out of Crimea and Ukraine. Additional sanctions were later imposed for Russia’s attack on America’s 2016 election.
However, right from the start of his presidency, Donald Trump has been unenthusiastic about helping Ukraine. When it appeared in the summer of 2017 that the president was on the verge of recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea and lifting the Russian sanctions, the Republican-controlled Congress hurriedly passed legislation to stop him with a resounding veto-proof majority.
Trump has unfortunately latched onto a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for attacking our presidential election in 2016. The theory was invented by Russia in 2016 and has been peddled ever since by Russian intelligence. All U.S intelligence agencies, the special prosecutor and the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee have conclusively found that the Russians were responsible for the attack.
Nevertheless, some Republican Congressmen have started parroting the Russian line in recent days as a way of defending Trump against impeachment. They have not been able to produce any evidence that Ukraine tried to influence our election or to explain how it would serve Ukraine’s interests to do such a stupid thing--Congress would not be continuing to fund Ukraine’s defense against Russian aggression if the discredited theory was true. On the other hand, Russia has benefitted beyond its wildest dreams from its election attack.
Despite the fact that the conspiracy theory has been debunked as total nonsense, Rudy Giuliani was in Ukraine the first week of December, trying to gather “evidence” against Ukraine. He met with pro-Russian individuals who oppose the current Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and scallywags from a former government who were ousted for corruption. These characters, like Giuliani’s indicted comrades Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, are about as slippery as eels.
President Zelensky, a former comedian with little government experience, met with former KGB officer Vladimir Putin on Dec. 9 with a very weak hand. The two met to try to work out a peace agreement for the eastern part of Ukraine where hostilities are taking place. Ukrainians rightly feared that Zelensky would have great difficulty in negotiating an acceptable deal for Ukraine with the bad cards he’d been dealt by Trump and Giuliani.
Zelensky’s hand was seriously weakened by the actions of Trump and Giuliani. Trump had previously made it clear to Zelensky that he would get neither $391 million in military aid, nor a show of support from Trump, unless he publicly announced that he was launching an investigation into the conspiracy theory, as well as one against a political opponent of Trump.
Giuliani reiterated that threat just days before Zelensky’s meeting with Putin. He tweeted from Ukraine that Zelensky’s failure to follow through on the corruption investigations “will be a major obstacle to the U.S. assisting Ukraine.” Trump told reporters on December 7 that Giuliani was acting on his behalf. It appears that Trump is doubling down on the conspiracy theory, regardless of how seriously it wounds our strategic partner, Ukraine.
Jim Jones is a former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.