Dire situation in Ukraine overshadows Manafort story
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I don't know if GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSouth Carolina Senate adds firing squad as alternative execution method Ex-Trump aide Pierson won't run for Dallas-area House seat House Oversight panel reissues subpoena for Trump's accounting firm MORE's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was paid boatloads of cash by former Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych, who is widely considered a corrupt thug. I don't know if Manafort has or remains on Yanukovych's payroll. In some ways, it doesn't matter. The story that trumps Manafort is the terrible situation in Ukraine and the ongoing misbehavior of Russia.


I visited Ukraine in April 2013 as under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs to launch the construction of a new American Center in Kyiv. I was enthralled by the majesty and cultural might of the city. A year later, Ukraine was marred by the power of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his unique ability to quash the spirit of a country.

Ukrainians have had a hard few years. They took to the streets in 2014 to oust Yanukovych, who backed away from Europe and the West with his rejection of a deal with the European Union for greater economic integration. Deposed from power, Yanukovych ended up back in Moscow making deals with Putin — the kind of deals Trump loves, "100 percent."

When Putin sent troops into Ukraine and illegally seized Crimea, the Russian propaganda machine went into full effect. Even Trump seems to have only recently realized that the annexation of Crimea was illegal, first suggesting in an interview that Putin was not going into Ukraine — only to later tweet that the Russians are "Already in Crimea!"

Learning history on the fly is always dangerous.

Today, Ukraine remains divided and in distress, as a shaky cease-fire with Russian-backed separatists and Russia threatens to further destabilize the country. Much of the world remains woefully unaware of what is happening in Ukraine. Both the separatist-controlled east and the rest of the country are struggling with freedom-of-the press issues and media restrictions. Anti-protest laws and other crackdowns make it tough for nongovernmental organizations to operate. Civilian deaths in eastern Ukraine last month climbed to over 70.

And while Russia continues meddling in Ukraine, it is also busy propping up President Bashar Assad in Syria, launching airstrikes from Iranian bases — claiming to target Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targets while helping the Syrian government retake territory.

While we here in the U.S. are obsessed with our own politics and who did what on the Trump team, we have to remember the people of Ukraine and the complex games played by Putin.

So let's keep our eye on the big picture of foreign policy and ensure that we don't leave ourselves vulnerable to Moscow's meddling.

Sonenshine is a specialist on global communications and writes frequently for The Hill.

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