Trump and Poroshenko: Billionaire Business Presidents who can Stop Putin

by Diane Francis

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Donald Trump wants the Pentagon and America’s allies to spend dramatically more on military defence to protect against terrorism and aggression.

What’s interesting is that the poster child for such national mobilization is Ukraine. In just two years since 9% of the country was occupied by Russian operatives and military, Ukraine now has Europe’s second largest military force (after France) and spends 7% of its economy waging a war against Russia and its operatives.

Trump may admire Russian President Vladimir Putin on some level, but his admiration should turn to Ukraine whose fierce fighters stand between Putin and the Baltic states (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia), Poland, Moldova, Georgia, Rumania and the rest of Europe.

Putin seized parts of Georgia and Moldova without much resistance and a recent report noted that Russians could overrun the Baltic states in a matter of days. But Ukraine has become the line in the sand for Europe, and the world, as it has united to resist re-colonization and abuse by Russia.

Since the occupation in 2014, more than 10,000 Ukrainians have been killed by Russian soldiers and operatives, tens of thousands more wounded and 1.4 million Ukrainian “refugees” have fled their homes – one of the biggest migration waves in the world.

Not coincidentally, after Trump’s election victory – and following his flattery of Putin and vaunted hope to improve the relationship –there’s a notable increase in bombs and violence by Russians in Ukraine.

But further invasions would turn the place into a killing field, as has happened in history. Ukraine is now bolstered by a military of 209,000 soldiers, 53,000 border guards, a National Guard of 60,000 plus security forces. It had to rebuild its forces after Putin’s ally, former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, sold off its equipment to dictators around the world for personal gain in advance of an invasion. After he fled the country in 2014, following months of street protests by Ukrainians, western allies have sent provisions and military advisors for the war effort and imposed economic sanctions against Russia and Putin’s insiders.

These sanctions have hurt Russia economically and sources say the country has been living off foreign reserves which will run out in a matter of months.

This financial desperation, combined with Ukraine’s heroic and unflagging military commitment, provide Donald Trump with all the cards he needs in order to drive a very hard bargain with Mr. Putin. And there’s more. By spring, Putin will be desperate to do anything for relief. His only hope is for higher oil prices but Mr. Trump’s plans to dramatically increase fossil fuel exploration and production, and imports from Canada’s oil sands, will increase oil supply and keep oil prices down or push them lower.

To this end, America must drive a very tough bargain. Sanctions that expire in March must be continued until Russia pulls out of pre-2014 Ukrainian territory which includes Crimea. Sanctions must continue until Russia pays billions in damages. Sanctions must continue until Russia stops making the Syrian mess worse by helping its government, thus providing cover for ISIS.

A very good development is that Trump is considering Mitt Romney as Secretary of State because he understands how dangerous Putin is. So does Vice President Mike Pence.

Ukraine should never be a bargaining chip. It should never be thrown under some bus to appease Putin’s imagined “sphere of influence”.

Ukraine alone has been holding the line with its blood and treasure. It is slowly moving toward internal reforms despite an expensive war. The country is bigger than Poland and Germany combined and its 40 million people would welcome a special relationship with Washington that would be mutually beneficial to tap its talented workforce as well as its agricultural and energy largesse.

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