Russia, which has been reasserting itself on the world stage over the last decade, is a great challenge. We must act prudently and avoid unnecessary interference in Russian affairs, but, at the same time, we can’t let them run roughshod over the U.S. or other free republics. And we most certainly cannot allow them to exert influence on the U.S. electoral process.
We know, without a doubt, that the Russian government attempted to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Contrary to public perception, there is little evidence that Russia’s intention was to support Donald Trump. Russia’s primary purpose was to sow discontent and chaos in the U.S.
As the 2016 election season got going, Russian agents and proxies attempted to inflame the American public in every way it could. They stoked anger across the political spectrum…working to support white supremacism, minority race grievances, economic discontent, jingoism, and more. At the beginning they were just as likely to latch-on to left-wing causes like income inequality as they were to promote right-wing causes like a hard line on immigration.
As far as their more direct support for candidates, they initially pursued a two-pronged approach. On the Republican side, they attempted to influence voters to support Donald Trump. On the Democratic side, they attempted to influence voters to support Bernie Sanders. This wasn’t because the Russian government had any particular love for either one of them; it was because they were perceived to be the two candidates most likely to cause political chaos. They were the oddities — the violations of political norms.
It was only when the Sanders campaign was coming to a close that the Russians shifted their efforts more completely toward Trump…but even then, they continued to agitate with issue ads across the spectrum.
So we need to stop trying to make this into some kind of partisan political issue. We know that the Trump campaign did not work with the Russians. Drop it. But we still need to deal with the fact that Russia interfered with our political system. We need to know exactly why they did it (which is still not clear), and we need to take steps to ensure that it never happens again.
First, I will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin and attempt to negotiate a resolution…a public apology for what they did and some kind of amicable agreement to restore normal relations and end punitive sanctions in return for formal assurances that it won’t happen again. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll go from there…with whatever sanctions or other punitive measures are needed.
The Russian annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine in 2014 was done in an improper way, and received much criticism from the world community. And yet, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that Russia has valid historical connections with the territory, and a valid national security interest in it (as the home port of the Black Sea fleet of the Russian navy).
I am a believer in the principle of self determination. Whether Crimea is part of the Ukraine or part of Russia should be up to the people of Crimea, and them alone.
The world community — led by the United Nations or, if they fail to act, the United States — should demand an internationally monitored referendum in Crimea to allow the people to choose for themselves where they will go. In advance of this referendum, the governments of the Ukraine and Russia should come to an agreement for resolving the conflict there in accordance with the outcome of the referendum.
Here is a possible structure for this agreement:
- If the people of Crimea choose to return to the Ukraine, Russia will return to the Ukraine all tax revenues, less administrative costs, collected from Crimean territory during their occupation, plus a 20% punitive fee. Ukraine agrees to allow the continued presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet for at least twenty years, subject to a reasonable annual fee for the use of Ukrainian territory.
- If the people of Crimea choose to remain in Russia, the Ukraine will no longer make any claim on the territory, but will be entitled to a reasonable punitive fee from Russia for the illegal seizure of the territory before a monitored referendum had been held.
- In either case, both parties will cease all hostilities. Russian forces operating in Ukraine (outside of Crimea) will immediately retreat into Russian territory, and Russia will stop all support for Ukrainian separatists committing acts of terror or violence in the Ukraine.