U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, the brash businessman who has upended the field of Republicans vying for their party’s 2016 nomination, has responded with blunt indifference to Ukraine’s possible membership in NATO.
“I wouldn’t care. If [Ukraine] goes in, great. If it doesn’t go in, great,” Trump said in an interview with NBC on August 16.
In the wide-ranging interview, Trump spoke briefly about Ukraine, which has been locked in a 16-month-long war with Russian-backed separatists that erupted after the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.
NATO’s eastward expansion has long incensed Moscow, as have pronouncements by Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders and NATO officials about Kyiv’s possible membership in the military alliance.
In his interview, Trump also said that Europe should bear the brunt of the responsibility for standing up to Russia in the Ukraine conflict.
“I don’t like what’s happening with Ukraine. But that’s really a problem that affects Europe a lot more than it affects us. And they should be leading some of this charge,” he said.
The United States and the EU have spearheaded international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions over its Crimea land grab and the war in eastern Ukraine, where some 6,400 people have been killed since the violence erupted between Kyiv’s forces and the rebels in April 2014.
Trump accused Germany -- whose chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been a stinging critic of Russia in the conflict -- of “sitting back” and “accepting all the oil and gas that they can get from Russia” while the United States is “leading Ukraine.”
The EU gets about 30 percent of its natural gas from Russia, which increased its gas supplies to Germany by nearly 50 percent in the second quarter of this year, Bloomberg reported on August 14.
“Why are we leading the charge in Ukraine?” Trump said.
Trump, a real-estate developer and reality TV personality who has never run for public office before, is leading polls nationwide amid a Republican field of candidates that includes former and incumbent governors and senators.
He is nonetheless widely seen as a longshot to win the Republican nomination due to his outspoken statements about women and Mexican immigrants, which some believe may render him unelectable.
In an August 14 campaign event, Trump said U.S.-Russian ties have become “pretty well-destroyed” under President Barack Obama and that if elected, he “would have a great relationship with Russia and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
Asked whether he would roll back sanctions against Russia, Trump said: “It depends, depends. They have to behave also.”