Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Agree to Disagree with Russian Aggression
Ukrainian Americans are so eager to hear words of support for Ukraine from the White House that we’ll accept double negatives, tidbits of opinions, Cabinet officials’ backing and new disclaimers.
Unfortunately, they’re all meaningless unless President Trump says so.
As the situation stands today, some two weeks ahead of the US-Russia summit in Helsinki, Finland, the Russo-Ukraine War of 2014-18 is raging, Crimea and Donbas are occupied, Russia is violating ceasefire agreements, and Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are being killed.
Will the United States continue not recognizing Russia’s illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea?
I can’t say for sure.
What I can say is that the White House has adopted a new foreign policy strategy aimed at scaring Moscow, safeguarding the former captive nations, and reaffirming its role as the protector of the free world: Agree to disagree.
That expression first surfaced a couple of days ago.
White House national security adviser John Bolton admitted that he discussed Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea with Russian fuhrer Vladimir Putin.
Bolton, who met with Putin in Moscow on June 27, told CBS’s Face The Nation on July 1 that “President Putin was pretty clear with me about it and my response was we’re going to have to agree to disagree on Ukraine.”
Russia says aggression, US says they speak Russian.
That’s updated brinkmanship. Putin was clear and resolute about Crimea remaining an occupied possession of Russia while Bolton not only blinked but he shut his eyes and stuck his head into the sand, hoping the problem will disappear.
The next iteration of this bold strategy was the next day by Susan Sanders.
Sanders, in her regular exchange with reporters, repeated that the White House rejects Russia’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and US sanctions will remain in place until this is reversed.
“We do not recognize Russia’s attempt to annex Crimea. We agree to disagree and the sanctions against Russia remain in place until Russia returns the peninsula to Ukraine,” Sanders told reporters.
So what does agree to disagree really mean? We agree that 2+2=4 but not always. We agree that today is Tuesday except when it isn’t? Russia agrees to do what it wishes to do anywhere in the world and the US is free to disagree with it? The US may or may not agree with Russia’s invasion, illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea and Russia certainly disagrees with Washington’s point of view and doesn’t care what it is.
Ukraine and the other x-captive nations that live or die on whispers of US support must certainly feel encouraged by such a myopic policy.
Perhaps President Trump ahead of the summit has personally voiced his firm commitment about Crimea’s return to Ukraine?
Trump has been vague on the issue when pressed by reporters last week. “We’re going to have to see,” he said.
See what? If Putin will allow the American President to support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty or not?
On June 29, Trump declined to rule out recognizing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
Asked by reporters on Air Force One whether reports about him dropping Washington’s longstanding opposition to the annexation were true, Trump said, “We’re going to have to see.” He didn’t flatly deny such an eventuality.
Trump gave a similar answer when asked whether he would consider lifting US sanctions on Russia that were imposed over the annexation.
The President pointed out the goal of his upcoming summit is to improve Washington-Moscow relations, which are at a post-cold war low, but apparently not forcing Russia to stand down with its occupation of Crimea and war in eastern Ukraine is not among his goals.
“We'll see what Russia does,” Trump observed when pushed by reporters.
For his part, Bolton earlier ruled out the possibility of abandoning Washington’s opposition to the annexation. “That’s not the position of the United States,” he told CBS on July 1. “I think the president often says ‘we'll see’ to show that he’s willing to talk to foreign leaders about a range of issues and hear their perspective,” Bolton said. Would he say “we’ll see” to discussing world affairs with Hitler in order to hear his perspective on invading Poland and France?
In other words, Trump has told Putin that he’s willing to discuss everything for the sake of better relations with Moscow while the Russian dictator said they can discuss “all other issues” except Crimea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin has “repeatedly stated and explained that Crimea cannot be and will never be on the agenda because it is an inseparable part of Russia.”
By agreeing not to discuss Crimea and Donbas with Putin, Trump is giving into Putin’s demands that the war in Ukraine and Russian aggression are none of America’s business – Moscow’s sphere of influence. Russia will continue to try to re-subjugate Ukraine and Washington has to accept it or agree to disagree.
Accepting that Crimea will never return to Ukrainian control, as Putin insists, would be a major concession to Russia, which is being punished by international trade sanctions over its actions. EU leaders this week extended sanctions for another six more months due to Moscow’s continuing war with Ukraine. So foreign policy pundits see this combination of interests as bartering chips.
The Helsinki summit is stirring nervousness among foreign policy experts. I have tweeted that the summit in Finland may repeat the infamous Yalta meeting of 1945 and result in Washington’s silent recognition of Russia’s plans for the re-subjugation of Ukraine and the x-captive nations.
In the past few weeks alone, Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrial powers, suggested Moscow has a legitimate claim to Crimea because a lot of Russian speakers live there and continued sowing doubts about whether Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election — or if it did, whether the sabotage actually benefited Hillary Clinton.
Is this an appropriate time for a summit with Moscow? Previous summits were conducted during the so-called cold war. Today, Russia is involved in a real shooting war with Ukraine. Putin is currently leading several wars at once – in Ukraine, Syria and a hybrid one against the West. He has been declared an international terrorist in some quarters after the verdict in the Litvinenko case, the shooting down of MH17, the poisoning of Skripal and so on, said Deutsche Welle commentators.
The World Cup and the upcoming summit are PR triumphs for Russia that legitimize Putin and pave the way for expanding its war in Ukraine. Remember that two weeks after the end of the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia invaded Ukrainian Crimea. Obviously, Russia doesn’t deserve such positive public relations and a renewed opportunity for aggression.
While a handful of GOP senators have travelled to Moscow to kowtow before Russian leaders,
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) sent a warning to President Trump, pointing out why he shouldn’t recognize unlawful annexation of Crimea.
“Recognizing Crimea as part of Russia would undermine the rules-based international order that was created with US leadership and has caused democracy to thrive around the world and made America a safer home for our citizens,” Corker said in a tweet, without directly mentioning Trump.
Indeed, the global community operates in a rules-based international order that Moscow has been violating with impunity for decades.
America’s latest foreign policy tenets of agreeing to disagree, proactive ambivalence, wishful naiveté, or ostrich optimism will not preserve peace in our time. Russia, regardless of who occupies the Kremlin, must be convinced that its opposite in the free world is resolute in defending the free world against any encroachments.
Americans should write their elected officials, insisting that Helsinki 2018 will not repeat Yalta 1945.