Impeachment Turmoil on Ukraine Cannot Distract Us From Putin’s Game There
by D.J. McGuire
“You may not be interested in strategy, but strategy is interested in you.” – Leon Trotsky
One of the apparent consequences of the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump over his attempt to strong arm Ukraine into smearing Joe Biden is the fading of Russia and of Vladimir Putin from the drama. Putin himself celebrated his regime’s return to the shadows recently (NBC).
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s pleased that the “political battles” in Washington have put on the back-burner accusations that Russia interfered in U.S. elections.
“Thank God,” he told an economic forum in the Russian capital on Wednesday, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore; now they’re accusing Ukraine.”
Of course, this is exactly what Putin wanted. The worst case scenario is part of what he’s getting now – less attention for what he had his regime do in 2016 to help Trump amid the arguments about whether Trump committed impeachable offenses (spoiler: he did). On top of that, Putin knows that millions of Americans are gaslighting themselves into believing he didn’t interfere, but rather was framed as part of a Rudy Goldberg scheme hatched out of Ukraine. So he’s already playing with house money.
That does not mean, however, that Putin has stopped paying attention to Ukraine, or to Washington. In fact, Putin is slowly getting the very thing Robert Mueller reported Russia wanted vis a vis Ukraine when its intelligence apparatus reached out to the Trump campaign in the first place.
Lest we forget, this is what Mueller reported back in April:
Separately, on August 2, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik requested the meeting to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel’s Office was a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine; both men believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s assent to succeed (were he to be elected President).
What was that “peace plan”? Mueller answered thusly:
Under the Yanukovych-backed plan, Russia would assist in withdrawing the military, and Donbas would become an autonomous region within Ukraine with its own prime minister. The plan emphasized that Yanukovych would be an ideal candidate…
According to Mueller, Manafort claimed he “had said to Kilimnik that the plan was crazy.” Yet Mueller also reported that Manafort lied to him on numerous occasions, an assessment backed by Judge Amy Berman Jackson (CNN).
How did Judge Jackson come to this conclusion? Mueller answers in a foot note:
In resolving whether Manafort breached his cooperation plea agreement by lying to the Office, the district court found that Manafort lied about, among other things, his contacts with Kilimnik regarding the peace plan…
So we know a Russian intelligence agent reached out to his associate in the Trump campaign about a plan to cement Putin’s control over Eastern Ukraine, meaning it was a priority for Putin. Recent events are showing us something else: battered by the revelations regarding Trump, Ukraine’s president is close to giving Putin what he wanted (DW).
The Ukrainian government signed an agreement Tuesday with pro-Russia separatists, Russia and European monitors that will allow a local election to be held in separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine.
The agreement was signed after the parties met in the Belarusian capital of Minsk, and is seen as a major step by the new Ukrainian government under President Volodymyr Zelenskiy toward resolution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and pro-Russia separatists.
In preparation for the election, the Ukrainian government and separatist leaders said they would withdraw troops from two locations in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions next week.
… The president has faced criticism that Ukraine is giving concessions to Moscow and for following a policy of appeasement with Russia.
That came less than a week after the memorandum of the Trump-Zelensky call was released to the public.
One might also note that Manafort’s assertion that he blew off Kilimnik’s plan has an additional weakness: Germany has long been a fan of it, minus Yanukovych (Reuters). Indeed, it was originally called the “Steinmeier formula” – after Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who first floated it in 2016. As the Kyiv Post notes, it has never been popular in Ukraine itself.
That hasn’t stopped Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel from pushing it, however. Meanwhile, whatever Trump might think of the idea himself, those who might tell him why it’s a bad idea have been … otherwise occupied, as the editors of the Washington Post noted over the weekend:
Virtually every senior official who worked on the relationship in the past two years has resigned or testified in the impeachment inquiry and been denounced by the president.
That makes it a lot more difficult for anyone serious about resisting Putin’s irredentism from having Trump’s ear …
… which is just another benefit to Putin of this scandal.