The Corner

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Russia, Crimea, and Us

A boat with tourists sails past a Russian warship at sunset ahead of the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea, July 27, 2019. (Alexey Pavlishak / Reuters)

On August 26, while attending the G-7 summit in France, President Trump argued for the readmission of Russia, which was ousted from this group when the Kremlin invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea. Trump said that Barack Obama, in particular, excluded Russia, because he was embarrassed at having been “outsmarted” by Putin.

Trump said that Crimea

was sort of taken away from President Obama — not taken away from President Trump, taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened, because it was embarrassing to him, right? It was very embarrassing to him, and he wanted Russia to be out of the — what was called the G-8, and that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin.

Crimea, bear in mind, was taken away from Ukraine, not from Barack Obama.

Trump further said,

President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted. They took Crimea during his term. That was not a good thing. It could have been stopped, it could have been stopped with the right, whatever. It could have been stopped, but President Obama was unable to stop it, and it’s too bad.

That word “whatever” is interesting. I wonder what Donald Trump would have done to stop Putin’s annexation of Crimea, particularly given Trump’s America First stance. For that matter, I wonder what Obama and his administration could have done.

It was important for the democracies to exclude Russia from their annual summit, given Putin’s gross violations of international law (not to mention his repression at home). What has Putin done to earn readmission?

It is also important to hold the line on Crimea — not to recognize the Kremlin’s seizure of it. The democratic nations, though they wobbled, held the line on the Baltic states for more than 40 years — even though Moscow’s control of those states was a blatant “fact on the ground.” Only a handful of nations recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, including Cuba, North Korea, and Zimbabwe.

Traditionally, U.S. presidents do not criticize their predecessors on foreign soil. I knocked Obama, hard, for a statement he made to Turkish students early in his presidency: April 2009. He said, “George Bush didn’t believe in climate change. I do believe in climate change. I think it’s important.”

On August 27, the day after President Trump spoke in France, his national security adviser, John Bolton, did something stand-up, in my opinion. In Kiev, he laid a wreath, subsequently tweeting the following: “It was an honor to represent the American people in paying our solemn respects to Ukrainians who have died in the defense of their nation against Russian aggression.”

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