- Thomson Reuters
An unverified document alleging Russia has for years been cultivating President-elect Donald Trump as an asset included a claim that Trump “agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” in return for Russia’s feeding of hacked documents to WikiLeaks.
Those claims have not been independently verified. But Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incursion into eastern Ukraine in 2014 was condemned by mainstream Republicans and Democrats, and it prompted the Obama administration to impose sanctions on the Kremlin.
Geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia Group, said it was therefore likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin “certainly would angle for Trump backing off Ukraine.”
“Trump, as president-elect, has already made a number of Ukraine statements that adhere extremely closely with the official Russian line,” Bremmer said.
Classified briefing materials provided to President Barack Obama and Trump by US intelligence officials last week indicated that Russian operatives claimed to have potentially damaging personal and financial information about Trump, according to CNN. Those materials included a summary of the unverified 35 pages of memos, which were subsequently published in full by BuzzFeed.
The intelligence community gleaned the information from a former British intelligence operative who provided the FBI with a series of memos in August 2016 detailing, without verification, how Trump, his advisers, and Kremlin officials regularly exchanged information before and during the presidential campaign, according to CNN.
The memos in the dossier claim that Trump – in return for Russia’s feeding the documents it hacked from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, to WikiLeaks for publishing – “agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine.”
That claim has not been independently verified. But ahead of the Republican National Convention in July, the Trump campaign, then led by Paul Manafort, gutted the GOP’s policy platform on Ukraine that called for increasing sanctions on Russia and arming the Ukrainian military against pro-Russian separatists.
- Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Manafort served as a top adviser to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine between 2004 and 2012. Secret ledgers uncovered by an anticorruption center in Kiev and obtained by The New York Times revealed that the political party earmarked $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to Manafort for his work between 2007 and 2012.
The Washington Post reported at the time the policy was altered that Trump staffers stripped the language calling for the US to provide “lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian army and replaced it with softer language calling for “appropriate assistance.”
In an interview during his campaign, Trump would not condemn Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” he said.
In his March 2014 speech about the annexation of Crimea, Putin said, “In people’s hearts and minds, Crimea has always been an inseparable part of Russia.”
Trump has given no indication so far, however, that he would “raise defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away” from Putin’s activities in Ukraine.
Trump has been heavily critical of NATO and said last July that the US would help in defending the Baltics from Russian aggression only if the Baltics “fulfill their obligations to us.”