CLEVELAND, OHIO - At this week’s Republican National Convention, a mini-drama has surfaced over what the party’s platform has to say about the conflict in Ukraine.
Diana Denman, a Texas delegate who backed her state’s U.S. Senator Ted Cruz for the party’s presidential nominee, has visited Ukraine several times since its independence in 1991. An international observer in three of the country’s elections, she has been troubled by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement with armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Denman serves on the Republican National Committee's platform committee. At a recent meeting here on national security, she put forward a platform amendment that included providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine.
A similar proposal was submitted by members of the Ukrainian diaspora. According to Andrew Futey, executive vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, it included maintaining and strengthening targeted economic sanctions against Russia, and expanding direct military assistance to Urkaine, including defensive arms and additional military programs.
Denman's proposal "was not supported in its entirety," she told VOA's Ukrainian service, noting "two gentlemen [who] acknowledged that they're representing Mr. Trump. ... I believe they were the ones that urged that the wording be changed."
The language was altered from providing "lethal defensive weapons" to providing "appropriate assistance."
"Trump staffers in the room, who are not delegates but are there to oversee the process, intervened," Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin wrote of the meeting at which the wording was changed. "By working with pro-Trump delegates, they were able to get the issue tabled while they devised a method to roll back the language."
A VOA reporter on Tuesday asked Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort whether Rogin's characterization of his staff's influence on the committee's work was accurate. Manafort, who for more than a decade worked as a political consultant to and lobbyist for Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Russian politician ousted as Ukraine's president by popular protests in 2014, said he did not understand the question.
Ukraine ambassador takes issue
Ukraine's ambassador to the United States, Valeriy Chaly, is here on a program organized by the State Department. He said he was less concerned about the rewording of the language on Ukraine than about the way it was done.
"The problem is that the document, which included [a] position on providing lethal weapons to Ukraine, was amended by the group in the committee who, I think, didn’t consider the position of the wider Republican establishment," Chaly told VOA. "The document, which was submitted by the wider Ukrainian diaspora ... was amended by the people of Donald Trump's campaign manager and not by the people who analyze and formulate foreign policy and defense positions. It makes [it] difficult to predict how strategic documents would be developed if Trump becomes president."
The ambassador noted that the document is only an electoral platform plank and not a statement of policy of a possible future Trump administration. He said that conversations at the convention led him to believe that policy toward Ukraine has not yet been formulated.
“I don’t think that overall foreign policy of the United States would change dramatically regardless of who wins," Chaly said, adding that Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the Republican Party nominee for vice president, has "good credentials" and understands the issue.
“The main thing for us is that the people who run Donald Trump’s campaign would not run his foreign policy,” he said.
Russian actions against Ukraine and the GOP's position on the issue dominated a roundtable discussion organized by the International Republican Institute in Cleveland on Tuesday.
Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was a contender in the Republican presidential primaries, ripped into the party’s platform on Ukraine.
“As long as I’m breathing air, I’m for arming the Ukrainians who want to fight for freedom,” Kasich said. Removing the language calling for arming Ukraine was “a terrible mistake,” he added.
Michael Flynn, a retired U.S. Army general who headed the Defense Intelligence Agency and was reportedly considered as Trump's running mate, defended Trump’s approach to foreign policy in an interview with VOA.
“I think the foreign policy of the United States is failing, I think our role in the world is failing," said Flynn, who has frequently appeared on RT, Russia's government-funded, English-language international television news channel.
"I think we need much stronger, tougher leadership,” he continued. “We need tougher diplomacy. Foreign policy starts with strong personal relationships with foreign leaders at every level – president to presidents, president to kings, president to prime ministers – all the way down to ambassadors and maybe some of our senior military."
However, some delegates here are unhappy that the Republican platform's plank on Ukraine was watered down.
“The Trump campaign was, for the most part, hands off except one strange issue, and that was Ukraine," said Randall Dunning, an alternative Ted Cruz delegate from Texas. “I don't understand why, with all the tough defense talk coming out of Mr. Trump, why he would object to giving Ukraine the arms necessary to defend their nation.”