Russia is trying to persuade the United States to change its stance toward the conflict in eastern Ukraine and accept annexation of Crimea by Moscow, a change in policy that was seen as impossible prior to President Donald Trump‘s meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Finland earlier this week.
According to media reports on Thursday, Putin made a proposal to Trump to hold a referendum on Crimea, which was annexed from Ukraine by Russia in February-March 2014. Western countries, including the United States, denounced the action at the time, but Trump has yet to clearly state his stance.
“We’re going to have to see,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One before the Helsinki summit when asked whether he would accept Russia’s claim on the territory.
During a press conference on June 9, Putin said, however, that Trump’s position on Crimea was “well known.”
“He [Trump] continued to maintain that it was illegal to annex it,” the Russian president said. “Our viewpoint is different…We held a referendum in strict compliance with the U.N. Charter and the international legislation. For us, this issue — we put paid to this issue.”
During the event, Trump blamed the annexation of Crimea on former President Barack Obama and suggested that Russia should return to the G8, a political forum that it was suspended from as a result of the takeover.
“I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in,” Trump stated.
Little could be taken away from the press conference about the policies that were discussed in the meeting, and that is part of the problem, according to Karl Kaiser, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“The Europeans fear the worst,” Kaiser told The Globe Post. “And the worst is that he may have said some things about the Ukraine that is contrary to European and western interest.”
It is possible for the United States to give up more of Ukraine in exchange for favorable Russian influence in the Middle East, but both of these are unlikely, according to Matthew Rojansky, Director of the Kennan Institute.
“What I wouldn’t expect is anything resembling carrots that go beyond kind of small steps for small steps,” Rojansky said in a conference call with the Wilson Center.
On the other hand, the United States could use sanctions or other methods in order to get back Crimea, but this particular administration may be unable to do so, according to Kaiser.
“This president does not have the instruments, or the intelligence or the experience to do a complicated deal, which is feasible,” Kaiser said. “That requires patient diplomacy that takes time, and I don’t see this administration doing that.”