Where once he demanded tougher U.S. response to Russian aggression, the GOP nominee now says he can live with a Russian Crimea.
Donald Trump sounded like a supporter of Ukraine's territorial integrity last September, when he spoke by video feed to a gathering of political and business elites in Kiev.
“Our president is not strong and he is not doing what he should be doing for the Ukraine,” Trump told he group of pro-Western businessmen, diplomats and politicians. “I don’t think you’re getting the support you need."
That view was in line with other statements Trump has made calling for a firmer Western response to Russian President Vladimir Putin's March 2014 annexation of Crimea and support for a pro-Russian separatist movement in the country’s east, according to a review of Trump's public comments about Ukraine since 2014.
In recent days, however, Trump has struck a far milder tone. He now says he might recognize Crimea as Russian territory and lift punitive U.S. sanctions against Russia. The alternative, he warned on Monday, could be World War III.
While the reason for his shift is not clear, Trump's more conciliatory words — which contradict his own party's official platform — follow his recent association with several people sympathetic to Russian influence in Ukraine. They include his campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has worked for Ukraine's deposed pro-Russian president, his foreign policy adviser Carter Page, and the former secretary of state and national security adviser Henry Kissinger.
In the days after Putin annexed Crimea in mid-March 2014, for instance, Trump expressed strong opposition to the move. Appearing on NBC’s “Today” show on March 13, he said that the land grab — which Obama and top European leaders denounced as a gross violation of international law — “should never have happened.”
And speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference a few days later, Trump said that Putin had seized "the heart and soul" of Ukraine. "That means the rest of Ukraine will fall," he added.
But in recent weeks, Trump has sounded far more forgiving of Putin's aggression, which has worsened with the entrenchment of pro-Russian separatist fighters in the country's east, where nearly 10,000 people have been killed in the fighting. Trump now says that he is “going to take a look” at recognizing Crimea as Russian territory, and that he would consider lifting those same sanctions.
And during an appearance on ABC's "This Week" this past Sunday, Trump seemed untroubled by Russia's grip on the territory.
“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were, “ Trump said, echoing a frequent Kremlin talking point.
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