President Donald Trump speaks to reporters on the North Lawn of the White House, Friday, June 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump confounds allies, facts with stance on Russia

June 15, 2018 - 2:31 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is almost certainly correct that better relations between the United States and Russia would be a good thing, but his belief that Russia should be immediately reinstated into the club of the world's major industrial democracies has confounded U.S. allies.

And, his repeated blaming of his predecessor for Russia's annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in Ukraine is at odds with the facts.

Trump's comments about Russia on Friday are likely to further alienate him and the country he leads from some of America's closest allies in the Group of Seven, further fracturing the bloc, which has already been strained by his threats to impose massive tariffs on imports. Leaders of the other G-7 members — Britain, Canada, Italy, France, Germany and Japan — have all made clear that Russia is not welcome back until and unless it gives Crimea back to Ukraine.

"I think it's better to have Russia in, than to have Russia out, because just like North Korea, just like somebody else, it's much better if we get along with them, than if we don't," Trump told reporters in an impromptu appearance on the White House lawn, where he also said that he may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin this summer.

Russia was invited to join the G-7 in 1998, turning it into the G-8 seven years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in a bid to draw the country further into the international community by putting it on par with its one-time Cold War foes. But it was expelled in 2014 after Putin alarmed world leaders by moving troops into eastern Ukraine and annexing the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

Trump, in his remarks, blamed former President Barack Obama for losing Crimea, claiming it was his "fault" because "Putin didn't respect President Obama."

"President Obama lost Crimea, just so you understand. This was long before I got there," Trump said, repeating the assertion several more times.

"It's his fault. Yeah. It's his fault," he said. "President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn't respect President Obama, didn't respect our country, and didn't respect Ukraine."

It was not clear what Trump thought Obama should or could have done to prevent Putin from seizing Crimea. The Obama administration, along with the European Union and individual allied countries, imposed sanctions on Russia over Crimea, and even members of Trump's Cabinet have said they will not be lifted until the situation is resolved.

Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice quickly denounced Trump's comments as "disgraceful."

"That is outrageous (for Trump) to blame his predecessor, rather than to understand that Russia is our adversary," she told CBS television's "Face the Nation" in an interview recorded for broadcast on Sunday.

Historians looking at Russia's intentions and willingness to take Crimea from Ukraine would more likely point to its 2008 conflict with another Western-leaning former Soviet republic with aspirations to join NATO — Georgia — during President George W. Bush's final year in office.

Shortly after that brief, five-day war a decade ago in August, Russia recognized the independence of the Georgian enclaves of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and has continued to occupy them without significant consequences in violation of a cease-fire agreement negotiated by France.

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