Ukraine was clearly following the summit in Helsinki between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin closely and with some anxiety.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko registered his disapproval by vowing that his country is prepared to defend itself against Russia “alone, without international support” if necessary, while the leader of the pro-Russian Ukrainian Choice movement said the Trump-Putin summit “should become a wake-up call for the Ukrainian authorities.”
Poroshenko, who has spoken highly of Trump and compared him favorably to Ronald Reagan as a “very charismatic” leader in the past, spent the weekend before the summit reassuring Ukrainians that Trump would hold the line against Russian aggression. On Friday he declared himself “very satisfied” with his meeting with Trump during last week’s NATO summit.
“We spoke, of course, about the need to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses and improve co-operation, including in the defense sector. We talked about questions of energy security. And here we noted that we absolutely share the same positions and approaches,” Poroshenko said on Friday.
He applauded Trump for speaking “very firmly” in support of Ukraine and expressed hopes that Trump would raise the issue of Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia.
Poroshenko’s immediate response to the summit was considerably darker in tone. “We are ready to defend our land even if we must do it alone, without international support,” he said shortly after the Trump-Putin press conference.
His dismay might have been caused in part by the fact that Trump did not mention Ukraine during the press conference but Putin did. “We paid special attention to the bona fide implementation of Minsk accords by Kyiv. At the same time, the U.S. could be more decisive in nudging the Ukrainian leadership, encouraging them to work actively to this end,” the Russian president said.
Poroshenko marked the fourth anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine with a Facebook post on Tuesday describing it as a crime for which Russia “must be held accountable.” Russia has denied responsibility for the act.
“A joint investigative group consisting of representatives of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Netherlands, and Ukraine has established that the aircraft was shot down by a Buk missile complex that belonged to Russia’s armed forces and brought from the Russian Federation. Therefore, Russia must be held accountable for that terrorist act,” Poroshenko wrote.
The Ukrainian president also indicated on Tuesday that he still feels he has the full support of the United States and European Union on the matter of Nord Stream 2, the very same gas pipeline President Trump described as Russian leverage over the German government during his contentious meeting with NATO leaders in Brussels.
Ukrainian companies are worried the Nord Stream 2 project will cut them out of the regional gas market, isolate them from Europe, and crash the Ukrainian economy. It is arguably the issue that precipitated the fall of Russia-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych and led to the current conflict between Russia and a more independent Ukraine.
Putin mentioned in the post-summit press conference that President Trump expressed concerns about Nord Stream 2 and said Russia wanted to extend its contracts with Ukraine, providing a long legal battle between the Russian and Ukrainian gas companies does not get in the way. Some critics of the Nord Stream 2 project were happier when Trump was blasting the pipeline in Brussels, stressing that he was right about the need to liberate Europe from Russian energy.
Russia’s Tass news service decided on Tuesday to check in with Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Russian Ukrainian Choice group and a former member of the Russia-aligned government in Kiev who was sanctioned by the United States for “threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity” of Ukraine. Medvedchuk thought the lack of attention paid to Ukraine at the summit was a bad sign for Poroshenko’s government because it depends so heavily on U.S. and European support.
“The discussion covered global matters that have very little to do with Ukraine because the leaders of the United States and Russia discussed what is interesting and important for them, their states and their policies,” he said. “The meeting between Putin and Trump should become a wake-up call for the Ukrainian authorities.”
“It has become clear that given the interests of Brussels and Washington, no one will be willing to fulfill Kiev’s wishes. Ukraine needs to understand and accept that because other countries understood that long ago and have been acting accordingly, based on their own interests and capabilities,” said Medvedchuk.
Medvedchuk offered the most pessimistic interpretation of Putin’s comments about Nord Stream 2, declaring it obvious that the project is in “no danger” from Western interference, so Poroshenko had better make peace with the new energy infrastructure and seek to become a junior partner in a gas consortium with Russia and the European Union.