Days after blaming former President Obama for Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, President Trump is reportedly considering blocking $250 in military aid intended for the nation that has for years been the target of Russian military aggression.
On Wednesday, Politico reported that Trump asked officials, particularly National Security Director John Bolton and new Defense Secretary Mark Esper, to review the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, the program that would provide the aid. According to officials a senior administration official, the president wants to make sure the U.S. interests abroad are being prioritized.
Democratic lawmakers are not happy, citing the delay as an other example of Trump’s cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin.
“Trump is sending up smoke signals bigger than mountains for Vladimir Putin,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) told CNN on Thursday. “And, for that matter, for those countries who are counting on U.S. assistance and support against Russian depredations. Remember, the Russians occupy parts of Georgia, Moldova, and the Ukraine, including the illegal annexation of Crimea. This is a terrible signal to be sending, but a very clear one.”
On Wednesday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) implied there could be a motive for the delay unrelated to Putin. “Trump is withholding vital military aid to Ukraine, while his personal lawyer seeks help from the Ukraine government to investigate his political opponent,” he wrote on Twitter. “It doesn’t take a stable genius to see the magnitude of this conflict. Or how destructive it is to our national security.”
The personal lawyer to whom Schiff is referring is Rudy Giuliani, who last week renewed his effort to convince the Ukrainian government to investigate whether Joe Biden’s diplomacy in the Ukraine may have been informed by his son Hunter’s stake in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.
What the delay shouldn’t be mistaken for, however, is some sort of anti-interventionist effort aimed at promoting peace. Trump has had no problem selling arms to nations like Saudi Arabia, has mused about wiping out Afghanistan and killing 10 million people, and has refused to condemn Putin for illegally invading Ukraine in 2014. If Trump could sell military assistance to Ukraine instead of offering it as an aid package, he might not be so hesitant. In explaining the delay to CNN, a senior administration official cited Trump’s belief that “foreign countries should also be paying their fair share.”
Regardless of why Trump has delayed the program, it’s an action that should raise concern and, one would think, public condemnation from both parties. In a statement he released on Thursday, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, noted how in recent years Democrats and Republicans “have come together in sending a clear and unambiguous message to the world of our rock solid support for the people of Ukraine.”
Republicans, including Trump, have been critical of president Obama for allowing Russia to annex Crimea, but they have been largely silent as Trump mulls whether to deny the nation the aid necessary to prevent another such invasion. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was one of the only Republicans to speak out on the issue. “This is unacceptable,” he tweeted on Thursday. “It was wrong when Obama failed to stand up to Putin in Ukraine, and it’s wrong now.”
The silence from Senate Armed Services Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has been particularly notable. In April, Inhofe wrote an op-ed for Politico arguing the funding for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative should be increased. “A larger share of this funding should go to support defensive lethal aid that will make Ukraine a more difficult target for Putin’s aggression,” he wrote in a piece titled “U.S. Has Done Much to Help Ukraine, But It Can Do More.”
Though he has not commented on Trump’s decision to the delay the program, he did find time since Wednesday to applaud the Environmental Protection Agency for stripping regulations on methane emissions and Trump for establishing the U.S. Space Command.
Inhofe’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.