The Republican candidate for U.S. president, Donald Trump, has said that, if elected, he would consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.
"I'm going to take a look at it," Trump said in an interview broadcast on July 31 on the U.S. television program This Week. "But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also."
The move would be a reversal of the Obama administration's policy of refusing to recognize Russia's occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
He also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin had no designs on Ukraine.
"Just so you understand. [Putin is] not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want," before admitting, after prodding by the program's host, that, "OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet," an apparent reference to the U.S. presidency.
Writing on Facebook, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called Trump's remarks "shameful," adding that "a marginal who support Putin’s dictatorship cannot be a guarantor of democratic freedoms in the U.S. and the world."
Former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called Trump's comments "a challenge to the values of the free world."
"It can hardly be called ignorance,” Yatsenyuk said. “This is a breach of moral and civilized principles."
Trump also blamed U.S. President Barack Obama for the "mess" in "that whole part of the world" and said he had not been involved in a move that decreased support for Ukraine in the Republican Party platform.
His supporters at the Republican National Convention in July prevented a reference being added to the party’s foreign policy agenda on providing offensive weapons to Kyiv for its fight against Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Trump also denied having any kind of relationship with Putin, saying he’d neither met Putin nor spoken on the phone with him.
Trump’s campaign manager, political strategist Paul Manafort, previously had been a lobbyist for Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovych.