Is Trump throwing Ukraine to the Kremlin sharks?
© Getty

The Kremlin is utilizing the absence of foreign policy leadership in Washington to advance quickly on Ukraine’s eastern front. If Washington does not wake up fast, Russia may have moved the facts on the ground too far. Ukraine is all too likely to be the first big Western cost of the Trump administration.

In November, the Kremlin celebrated the Trump victory with champagne. As Russia’s chief propagandist Dmitri Kisiliev of the First Russian Television Channel stated: “We Russians congratulate one another on our election victory in the United States.”


In parallel, the Russian-backed forces in the occupied territories in eastern Ukraine stepped up their artillery salvos, and all the more so with the inauguration of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGuardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa wins GOP primary in NYC mayor's race Garland dismisses broad review of politicization of DOJ under Trump Schumer vows next steps after 'ridiculous,' 'awful' GOP election bill filibuster MORE. The Russian forces have never truly maintained the ceasefire declared in the Minsk agreements of September 2014 and February 2015, and they were further encouraged by Trump’s victory. According to spot reports, they kill about two Ukrainian soldiers every day. All parties concerned seem to expect the Minsk peace process to fall apart, and the obvious victim will be Ukraine.


At Trump’s inauguration party and at the prayer breakfast two weeks later, Washington was inundated with Ukrainian parliamentarians, mainly from the small pro-Kremlin opposition. Apparently, four different, though confusingly similar, “peace plans” have been circulated by Ukrainian parliamentarians. Their common feature is that they represent a Ukrainian sellout to Russia.

A little known parliamentarian, Andriy Artemenko promoted the “peace plan” that attracted the greatest media attention. He represented the populist and nationalist Radical Party in the Ukrainian parliament, but they instantly expelled him after he has had endorsed this plan. As his now former party leader Oleh Lyashko said, he all too obviously represented the interests of the Kremlin rather than those of Ukraine. The Ukrainian prosecutor general has started a case of treason against him.

The shocking thing is how deep the connections this obscure and rogue Ukrainian parliamentarian had with the Trump group. His closest contact was Trump’s private lawyer Michael D. Cohen. Both Cohen and his brother Bryan are married with Ukrainian women, and Bryan Cohen’s father-in-law Alex Oronov was a major businessman in Ukrainian agriculture and alcohol business until he died at the age of 69 on March 2.

Another person who was named by “The New York Times” in the Artemenko “peace” initiative is Trump’s old business associate, the convicted organized criminal Felix Sater. Artemenko himself has stated that Republican pro-Putin congressman Dana Rohrabacher invited him to the inauguration and that he met former National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn in a hotel in Manhattan.

These events appear to reflect a successful penetration of the Trump circle by Russian sympathizers. We can only hope that this will be properly investigated.

Meanwhile, the situation in eastern Ukraine has changed quickly. Russia is moving fast to integrate them into Russia. On Feb. 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing passports and other documents of the Russian Quisling regimes in Donetsk and Luhansk. Soon afterwards, these territories recognized the ruble as the only valid currency.

Since late January, purported Ukrainian nationalists have blocked all railway transportation from the occupied territories to free Ukraine. As a result, Ukraine’s coal stocks are running critically low, which may result in rolling blackouts that will seriously hurt the economy. This looks like an action inspired by Russian secret services.

In an important move on March 1, the Russian-backed leaders in the occupied territories confiscated some 40 major enterprises, most of which belong to Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, who tried to stay out of the conflict, but eventually come down on the side of Ukraine. The Donetsk rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko suggested that his enterprises would instead be given to Sergey Kurchenko, former President Viktor Yanukovych’s favorite oligarch.

So what does the U.S. government do in this dramatic situation? Nothing! The White House had said nothing. Nor has the State Department. Only the U.S. Embassy in Kiev has made some protests. Worse, the Trump administration is considering cutting U.S. military supplies to Ukraine from $350 million this year to $150 million next budget year. The only forces that stand up for Ukraine are a few brave senators from both parties.

The absence of U.S. policy on Ukraine is extremely dangerous. The Trump administration is throwing one of the friendliest and most pro-American countries in the world under the bus, to no discernible benefit to the United States. This is not policy. It is madness. Rather than cut support for Ukraine, the United States should increase it and act fast.

Anders Åslund is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He has advised both the Russian and Ukrainian governments.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.