On Monday morning, Donald Trump attempted to clarify the incomprehensible position he staked out this weekend in an interview with George Stephanopoulos. “When I said in an interview that Putin is ‘not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down,’ I am saying if I am President. Already in Crimea!” he tweeted. In the interview, Trump had said that Vladimir Putin is “not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want.”
“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos suggested. “Okay, well, he’s there in a certain way,” Trump allowed. “But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He take—takes Crimea.”
Right, well, he has already taken Crimea: Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Russian paramilitary troops have fought alongside the pro-Russian Ukrainian insurgency, mostly in the eastern part of the country, currently in open revolt against the government. The New York Times described Trump’s understanding of the situation in Ukraine as “questionable.”
Trump clarified his foreign policy analysis with a pair of tweets on Monday morning:
When I said in an interview that Putin is "not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down," I am saying if I am President. Already in Crimea!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
So with all of the Obama tough talk on Russia and the Ukraine, they have already taken Crimea and continue to push. That's what I said!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2016
As it happens, before he was the Republican candidate’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort worked for many years as a political advisor to the now-deposed, pro-Russian president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych, who is now living in Russia, under Putin’s care. From the Times:
It is far from certain that Mr. Manafort’s views have directly shaped Mr. Trump’s, since Mr. Trump spoke favorably of Mr. Putin’s leadership before Mr. Manafort joined the campaign. But it is clear that the two have a shared view of Russia and neighbors like Ukraine — an affection, even — that, in Mr. Manafort’s case, has been shaped by years of business dealings as much as by any policy or ideology.
“I wouldn’t put out any moral arguments about his work,” said Yevgeny E. Kopachko, a pollster with Mr. Yanukovych’s former party who cooperated with Mr. Manafort for years and called him a pragmatic and effective strategist. “Nobody has a monopoly on truth and morals.”
Mr. Kopachko, the pollster, said Mr. Manafort envisioned an approach that exploited regional and ethnic peculiarities in voting, tapping the disenfranchisement of those who felt abandoned by the Orange Revolution in eastern Ukraine, which has more ethnic Russians and Russian speakers.
Exploiting regional and ethnic peculiarities in voting? Why, that sounds awfully familiar!