Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump (Credit: AP/Andrew Harnik/Nati Harnik/Photo montage by Salon)
No former Soviet republic has been more worried than Ukraine about the consequences for itself of the election of Donald Trump as US president, given the his statements during the campaign about his admiration for Vladimir Putin, his willingness to lift sanctions against Moscow, and the possibility that he will recognize Crimea as part of Russia.
But Kyiv analyst Denis Popovych argues that despite such fears, there are many reasons to think that in the end Trump may turn out to be a friend of Ukraine and that at the very least fears of an American betrayal are “premature.”
Indeed, he argues, there are two reasons for believing that “Donald Trump may present Putin with a number of unwelcome surprises” as far as the Kremlin leader is concerned: the candidate’s own words and the three traditional positions of the Republican Party concerning national defense and Russia.
With regard to the first of these, Popovych says,
Ukrainians have focused only on Trump’s statements about Russia and Crimea that are worrisome and not paid attention to other statements he has made that should be encouraging for Ukrainians instead.
Thus, he points out, candidate Trump not only said that Putin hadn’t invaded Ukraine but that
“the US had supported Ukraine but more in words than in deeds. [Barack Obama] is insufficiently strong and he is not doing for Ukraine what he should. We call this talk without action, and part of the problem of Ukraine and the US is Putin does not respect our president.”
With regard to the second, Popovych points to what he calls “three facts”:
- First of all, he says, “one of the chief ideological positions of the US Republican Party which nominated Trump for president is increasing spending on defense and national security and also a tough foreign policy.”
- Second, he continues, “it is extremely difficult to call the Republican friends of the Soviet Union and of the Russian Federation which arose on its ruins.” It was Ronald Reagan who helped bring down the USSR and his successor George H.W. Bush supervised its dismemberment.
- And third and most important, Popovych concludes, is the following: “Republicans have always spoken in support of Ukraine.” George W. Bush pushed for a membership action plan for Ukraine to eventually become a member of NATO, and in response to Russian aggression against it, Republicans like John McCain sharply criticized Obama for “insufficient attention to ‘the Ukrainian question” and urged that Washington supply Kyiv with lethal weapons.
Consequently, Popovych says, Ukrainians should not fear an American betrayal now or be so disappointed by Trump’s election. Instead, he says, they should feel exactly the opposite because the elections of Republicans to the presidency mean “a strengthening of the foreign expansion of the US, efforts to bring Ukraine in its orbit, and various stages of cooling in relations with Russia.”
“There is no reason to think that now will be different,” Popovych says.
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