Ukrainian Weapons and the RNC Platform
Two interesting Ukrainian weaponry threads are in the news this week. First, of course, is the fact that Ukrainian investigators are freezing their cooperation with the Mueller investigation so as not to upset the administration amid anti-tank missile sales.
Second, Mueller is still reportedly investigating a decision to remove language supporting lethal weapons for Ukraine from the GOP party platform, a surprising reversal of a key attack on President Obama’s Ukraine policy. While Republicans—House Intel Committee members in particular—have tried to downplay that event, consider it in the broader timeline of Trump-Russia collusion. This could be a down payment on a quid for Russian interference quo. In other words, the platform change is a clear and tangible deliverable from Trump to Russia.
It was an odd change.
- Initially, a draft of the RNC platform called for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine to combat Russian incursions. This was a common demand made by GOP senators since 2014 and the basis for frequent Republican attacks on Obama.
- Days later, the language was softened: The final version called instead for “providing appropriate assistance” to Ukraine.
- After weeks of intrigue, the motive became clear: It happened because the Trump campaign asked for it.
- In fact, Trump adviser J.D. Gordon intervened to make the change at the convention.
But it didn’t happen in a vacuum. Other events in July of 2016 show a broader pattern: the Trump campaign repeatedly handing the Kremlin gifts.
- Campaign adviser Carter Page, already on the FBI’s radar as a potential Russian infiltrator, traveled to Moscow’s New Economic School to parrot pro-Kremlin talking points and discuss the campaign with high-ranking Russian officials and oligarchs.
- On July 20, Gordon, Page, and then-Senator Jeff Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
- While ordinarily this might be written off as mundane diplomatic box-checking, in this case Kislyak made no such appearance at the Democratic National Convention to check in with the clear front-runner in the race.
- Two days later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails from the DNC. By July 26, it was clear the Kremlin was behind the hack. Trump not only refused to denounce this, but encouraged Russia to hack into his opponent’s inbox.
- Trump ended the month by telling George Stephanopoulos that Putin was “not going into Ukraine” and that “the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”
For the Kremlin who, like everyone else, didn’t think Trump would become president, softening the platform of a historically hawkish party would be a huge foreign policy achievement.
Considering the platform change in the broader context of small but tangible pro-Russia deliverables—moves that would barely register in a heated campaign, but would make waves abroad—shows a concerning larger pattern.