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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson August 27, 2019

Donald Trump misleads on Russia, Crimea, Obama and the G-8


President Donald Trump entered the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, urging his fellow members to re-admit Russia to the group, from which it had been expelled in 2014. Other G-7 members gave the idea a cool reception. 

During a post-summit question-and-answer session with journalists, Trump was asked about it.

Yamiche Alcindor of PBS asked Trump, "Why do you think it’s appropriate to invite Russia to the G-7, given that they’ve meddled in the 2016 election? And are you worried that if Russia does come to the G-7, that it might hurt you politically, because it’s only going to be a couple months before the 2020 election?

Trump said it was better to have Russia inside the room than outside, but he then turned his focus to his predecessor, President Barack Obama. "A lot of bad things happened with President Putin and President Obama," Trump said. 

Trump cited Crimea, a peninsula located on the Black Sea. Following the ousting of Ukraine’s pro-Russia president Viktor Yanukovych, Russian forces invaded Crimea in 2014 and officially absorbed it into Russia. (Until 1954, Crimea had previously been part of Russia.).

"It was sort of taken away from President Obama," Trump said. "Not taken away from President Trump; taken away from President Obama. President Obama was not happy that this happened because it was embarrassing to him. Right? It was very embarrassing to him. And he wanted Russia to be out of what was called the ‘G-8.’ And that was his determination. He was outsmarted by Putin. He was outsmarted. President Putin outsmarted President Obama."

Experts contacted by PolitiFact said Trump’s statement is filled with misleading assertions.

For starters, Russia did invade and, eventually, annex Crimea during Obama’s presidency -- in February and March 2014. But Russia didn’t take Crimea away from either Obama or the United States – it took the region away from Ukraine, of which it which it was an internationally recognized part.

Trump’s statement is "a very odd way of thinking about Crimea and the United States’ role in Ukraine," said Susanne Wengle, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame. "It is highly misleading and factually incorrect. The U.S. exercised a certain influence among certain Kiev and Ukrainian politicians – how much and whom is disputed – but the U.S. never ‘had’ Crimea."

In addition, Trump’s phrasing – "sort of taken away" – soft-pedals Russia’s coercive actions in seizing Crimea, said Anders Åslund, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. "This is not what you call a military occupation," Åslund said.

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It’s also worth noting that, despite Trump’s focus on his predecessor, Obama wasn’t alone in opposing Russia’s annexation. Virtually the entire global community refused to recognize the annexation, which was the first such takeover in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

"Europe, the United Nations and other U.S. allies opposed the invasion and annexation," said Yoshiko Herrera, a University of Wisconsin political scientist. "It wasn’t just Obama who opposed it."

Trump’s statement is problematic for other reasons.

While the Obama administration did support Russia’s expulsion from the G-8 over the annexation of Crimea, it did not do so unilaterally, and in fact could not have acted unilaterally.

"The G-7 was united behind the decision to kick out Russia from G-8, so it was a common consensus decision," Åslund said.

In a communique dated March 24, 2014, the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the European Council and the European Commission jointly wrote that they "strongly condemn" Russia’s actions in Crimea.

The signatories agreed that they would not participate in a scheduled G-8 meeting in Sochi, Russia, and that they would "suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion."

To date, the G-8 has not invited Russia back into the fold.

All in all, Trump "seems to find it hard to believe that there could be any reason other than embarrassment to oppose aggression and territorial dismemberment of a major European state," said Steve Sestanovich, a senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Our ruling

Trump said that Crimea "was sort of taken away from President Obama. … And he wanted Russia to be out of what was called the G-8. And that was his determination."

Obama did oppose Russia’s annexation of Crimea and back its expulsion from the G-8, but Trump’s view leaves out much of the story.

Trump’s remark ignores both widespread opposition to Russian’s actions within Europe and among U.S. allies, as well as the strongly worded decision by the remaining G-7 nations to expel Russia from the group. It also ignores that Crimea was "taken away" from Ukraine, not Obama.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

Our Sources

Donald Trump, remarks with President Macron of France in a joint press conference in Biarritz, France, Aug. 26, 2019

European Commission, declaration following a G-7 meeting, March 24, 2017

Email interview with Yoshiko Herrera, University of Wisconsin political scientist, Aug. 27, 2019

Email interview with Steve Sestanovich, senior fellow for Russian and Eurasian studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Aug. 27, 2019

Email interview with Anders Åslund, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, Aug. 27, 2019

Email interview with Susanne Wengle, political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, Aug. 27, 2019

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Donald Trump misleads on Russia, Crimea, Obama and the G-8

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