Ukraine Ignored in US-Russia Statement After Trump-Putin Meeting; Trump Walks Back Comments Dismissing US Intel Findings

November 13, 2017

A joint statement issued on Saturday (Nov 11) by the United States and Russia following informal talks between Presidents Trump and Putin in Vietnam focused on a peace plan for the war-hit country of Syria and ignored the ongoing situation of Russian military activity in Eastern Ukraine. The statement was overshadowed by the US President’s remarks following the Trump-Putin meetings on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Community, with Trump clearly stating his support for Putin’s denials that the Russian government played an interventionist role in last year’s US election campaign. The 3 main US security/intelligence bodies, the FBI, CIA, and NSA, have all stated unambiguously that Russian state actors conducted a disinformation campaign aimed at helping Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. In the statement, Trump also attacked the Democratic Party and the previous heads of the US security agencies, John Brennan of the CIA and James Comey of the FBI, calling them “political hacks”, while his rhetoric toward Putin was far kinder. However, on Sunday (Nov 12), Trump partially walked back his comments in support of Putin, stating that “I am with our intelligence agencies” on the question of whether Russia played an active role in the election campaign.

The Kremlin’s main demand to Trump on Ukraine has always been, and remains, the ceding of Kyiv to Russia’s “sphere of influence” via a backdoor understanding. That the US-Russia communique focused on Syria and ignored Ukraine is therefore unsurprising, as the Trump administration has no domestic political space for concessions to Putin on Ukraine, and the issue remains uncomfortable for both sides, whereas there is more room for common ground on the Syrian problem. Overall, the Trump administration’s cautious approach to the Donbass conflict is rather similar to the strategy of the previous Obama administration. Trump has appointed a tough diplomat, Kurt Volker, to hash out ways of maintaining slow progress on the long-delayed Minsk peace agreement, which is now almost two years in delinquency. As for Trump’s latest comments in support of Putin, they are not as shocking as they would have once been given how many times we have now heard this refrain; however, the threat of mass resignations in the CIA may have forced Trump to distance himself from his own words only a day later. Overall, the impression that Putin has some sort of control over Trump and an ability to manipulate him could help Putin politically as he heads toward the Russian presidential election due in just over 4 months.

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