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Commentary: Four years on, the awkward question of Crimea raises implications for US credibility

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13.07.2018

WASHINGTON: When Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki next week, the Crimean peninsula will loom large over their summit talks.

How Trump handles the issue will have implications for European security and American credibility.

Putin’s spokesperson says Crimea — which the Russian military seized from Ukraine in 2014 — is a settled matter and not a topic for summit discussion. That is not quite true.

The Kremlin would love nothing more than to have the US president accept and recognise its illegal annexation of Crimea. That would score a big win for Putin.

Trump unfortunately has given Moscow reason for hope. While virtually all other US officials maintain that the United States continues to regard Crimea as part of Ukraine, Trump says:

We’re going to have to see.

At the June G-7 summit, he reportedly suggested Crimea should belong to Russia because most people there speak Russian.

SPINNING A NARRATIVE

In Helsinki, there is a good chance that Putin, probably in the one-on-one meeting, will spin a case for Trump accepting Crimea’s annexation, something along the lines of:

The Russian Empire colonised Crimea; its largest city, Sevastopol, was founded to be the homeport for the Russian Black Sea Fleet; Crimea was part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in Soviet times until 1954; and ethnic Russians constitute and for many decades have constituted the largest group there.

Putin can make a historical case for Crimea to be Russian. The case will sound reasonable to uninformed ears. It will be flawed.

Russian forces seized control of Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. (Photo: AFP/Alexey Kravtsov)

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© Channel NewsAsia