One thing that came through in many of the House Intelligence Committee’s interviews with Ukraine experts was the symbolic importance to President Zelensky of having an Oval Office meeting with Donald Trump. It was widely understood that he would be strengthened both at home and in his upcoming negotiations with Vladimir Putin. The meeting with Putin occurred in Paris on Monday. Zelensky entered the summit without the benefit of an Oval Office meeting.
Not only that, Zelensky lacked anything resembling unified American support. The whole world now knows that President Trump does not like Ukraine and accuses them of trying to “take him down” in 2016. They know he sees the country as irredeemably corrupt and uniformly unsupportive of his political future. They know that Trump put Ukrainian military aid on hold and only released it reluctantly when he realized that he was about to face down a scandal that could (and will) cause his impeachment.
Meanwhile, some in the Republican Party have now embraced a debunked theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, was responsible for interfering in the 2016 election. They adopted this theory because it’s the only way to defend Trump’s demand that Ukraine blame themselves for the hacking of the Democrats if they wanted to receive a formal visit in the White House. For those who can’t quite embrace this level of craziness, they simply argue that Ukraine was almost as guilty of Russia because some of them objected publicly to Candidate Trump’s opinion that Crimea rightfully belongs to Russia.
So, far from entering his peace negotiations with Putin from a position of strength, Zelensky was lacking support from his most important ally. And if that wasn’t clear on Monday, it certainly became clear on Tuesday when the Russians were granted what Zelensky could not secure for himself.
Donald Trump held a closed-door meeting with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, at the White House on Tuesday, but the two men gave diverging accounts of what was discussed, on a day articles of impeachment were announced against the US president.
The last time Lavrov visited the White House, in May 2017, Trump was reported to have disclosed highly classified information to him about US intelligence-sharing arrangements.
On this occasion, the press were barred from the meeting, and were handed a White House statement saying, that among other topics: “President Trump warned against any Russian attempts to interfere in United States elections.”
Asked about the statement at a press conference in the Russian embassy later the same afternoon, Lavrov claimed: “No we haven’t even actually discussed elections.”
So, on the very day that the House of Representatives introduced two articles of impeachment related to Trump’s Ukraine policy, President Trump was huddling in the Oval Office privately with the foreign minister of Russia.
Simple optics should preclude such a move by our president, but he obviously feels immune from congressional pressure and absolutely unable to resist directives from the Kremlin.