Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Ukraine was the Elephant in the Room at Helsinki

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 17 – Many Ukrainian commentators have suggested that the “laconic” way in which Vladimir Putin referred to the Crimean issue and the failure of Donald Trump to say anything at all about Ukraine at the joint press conference in Helsinki means that, in the words of one, “Ukraine was not in the epicenter” of their talks, including their one-on-one sessions.

            Such a conclusion represents a fundamental misunderstanding of what happened because Trump’s failure to raise the issue given the certainty that Putin would react badly means that the US leader has deferred to the Russian one by ignoring Moscow’s greatest current crime and given Putin a victory he doesn’t deserve and must not be allowed to retain.

            By not raising Ukraine in fact, Trump in fact made it clear that he personally at least wants to overlook Russian aggression there in the name of some grand bargain elsewhere. Putin could not be more pleased because that means Trump implicitly raised Ukraine by not talking about it. 

            After Neville Chamberlain made his concessions to Hitler at Munich, Winston Churchill observed in the House of Commons that he had to mention the most horrible thing first. England, he said, “had suffered a defeat without a war” by failing to oppose the Nazi dictator and believing that deals with him were possible.

            That observation can now be updated for the United States and the world. At Helsinki, the US and Ukraine “suffered a defeat without a word” because Trump’s failure to mention Ukraine is a defeat for the West and a victory for Putin.  One can only hope that this time around too, the initial victory of the aggressor will lead to his ultimate defeat.

            But for that to happen, one must not comfort oneself with the notion that Ukraine wasn’t discussed at Helsinki as some have done ( It very much was even if, as many think, not a word was said. 

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