KIEV, Aug. 1 – Ukraine for the third day remained an issue in the U.S. presidential race after Donald Trump on Monday sought to clarify his previous controversial comments on the subject, which had been ridiculed by the media worldwide.
Trump, the Republican nominee, tweeted to clarify that Russia will not invade Ukraine if he wins the U.S. presidency in November. He also tweeted that Russian troops are currently in Crimea, a Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula that Russia had annexed in March 2014, but not anywhere else in Ukraine.
“So with all of the Obama tough talk on Russia and the Ukraine, they have already taken Crimea and continue to push,” Trump tweeted. “That's what I said!”
The tweets were aimed at calming a media storm following Trump’s interview with ABC News on Sunday in which he had presented a deeply confusing picture of events in Ukraine, mostly reflecting the Kremlin’s view.
As a presidential candidate, Trump is supposed to have started receiving classified intelligence briefings similar to what is received by senior U.S. officials, and should be aware of the most serious global security threats.
Yet Trump’s tweets on Monday continued to ignore the fact that Russia has stationed thousands of its troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and is persistently sending massive supplies of lethal weapons and personnel to fight the Ukrainian government troops.
Ukrainian military intelligence, which has spies on the ground in Donetsk and Luhansk, reported about 7,000 Russian army soldiers in the region, in addition to perhaps up to 25,000 so-called Russian volunteers that had arrived to the region to fight for the Russian cause.
Local separatist authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk often issue fake identities for such fighters, making them harder to identify as the Russian citizens.
For example, the two Russian spetsnaz special forces troops captured last year near Luhansk had been issued fake IDs as local policemen. These ‘local policemen’ were later exchanged for Ukrainian helicopter pilot Nadia Savchenko in a high-profile exchange of POW negotiated directly with the Kremlin.
A Russian nationalist group has recently asked the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow for help to obtain a special status for 50,000 of Russian citizens that had gone through the armed conflict in Ukraine. The figure should give an idea of the size of the Russian volunteer forces involvement in the conflict.
Two top U.S. diplomats working to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine have last week accused Russia of continuing to supply separatist fighters with fuel and weapons and creating a "deteriorating security situation" in the region that is as bad as it was a year ago, Radio free Europe/radio liberty reported.
Ambassador Daniel Baer, head of the U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt made the statements during a July 29 telephonic press briefing from Vienna.
Baer said the United States and other OSCE members were increasingly concerned by what they see as a disconnect between Russia's words and its actions regarding the conflict.
"We see continued resupply of weapons and fighters; we see continued provocations to keep the conflict going; we see continued restrictions of the SMM and its monitors; we see continued shoot-downs of SMM UAVs [drones] after they have seen Russian heavy weaponry in places where it shouldn't be," Baer said. (nr/ez)