WASHINGTON - Russia’s actions against Ukraine and the potential threat it poses to other countries in its neighborhood has become an issue in the U.S. presidential race, thanks largely to comments made by Donald Trump.
The Republican candidate told a U.S. television interviewer late last month that the people of Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, “would rather be with Russia” and that, if elected, he would “take a look at” recognizing the Black Sea peninsula as Russian territory.
The United States and European Union imposed sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea, and expanded them after Moscow began providing military assistance to separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Amid the controversy sparked by his comments, Trump stood by them, saying Crimea was annexed by Moscow “during Obama’s watch,” and asking: “Do you want to have World War III to get it back?”
In an interview with VOA’s Myroslava Gongadze, Michael Carpenter, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, said Russia’s actions in Crimea have violated a host of international norms and treaties, including the United Nations Charter.
“Russia, in its invasion and illegal attempted occupation and annexation of Crimea, broke essentially every rule in the basic fundament of the international world order, from sovereignty, territorial integrity, the inviolability of borders.”
On continued conflict in Ukraine
Carpenter noted that the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has already claimed nearly 10,000 lives, has intensified in recent days.
“Sadly, we see the violence today is at a very high level, as high as it's been since… before the original Minsk agreement was signed in September a year ago. And so we continue to see this play out in front of our eyes, which is tragic.”
Carpenter added that Ukraine is not the only country that has been the target of Russian military actions in recent years.
“Russia displayed similar aggressive tendencies where it also violated international law, in terms of its invasion of Georgia in 2008,” Carpenter said.
Trump was recently asked by the New York Times newspaper whether NATO member countries — including new ones like the three Baltic states — can count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia. The Republican presidential candidate answered yes, if they have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” In the same interview, Trump said that “we have many NATO members that aren’t paying their bills.”
Elsewhere, he has also called NATO “obsolete.”
U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Carpenter said the Baltic states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — and other NATO members can rely on the United States to come to their defense.
“I think that the Baltic states and, in fact, all the other allies along the eastern flank of the alliance should feel that: a) we have got their back; b) that we are investing in the capabilities and the force posture to deter Russian aggression or, frankly, any other aggression against them.”
Carpenter also noted that the United States is putting military forces into eastern Europe on a bilateral basis to help defend the NATO members there.