Ukraine's president reassures his worried nation over US-Russia summit
Donald Trump vague on Ukraine despite strong line from other US officials
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko: “I wish Mr Trump well in his efforts to bring Mr Putin back into line.” Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has sought to ease his people’s concerns over Monday’s US-Russia summit, despite continuing uncertainty over how US president Donald Trump views four years of Kremlin aggression against Ukraine.
Mr Trump has long advocated a rapprochement with Moscow, and brushed off questions about Ukraine ahead of his talks in Helsinki with Russian president Vladimir Putin.
While Mr Trump said last week that he was “not happy about Crimea”, which Russia occupied in 2014, he also blamed predecessor Barack Obama over the annexation and added: “What will happen with Crimea from this point, that I cannot tell you.”
The US president has also failed to state his position on Russia’s leading role in a war in eastern Ukraine that has killed 10,300 people, and the downing of the MH17 airliner – by a Russian army missile, according to Dutch investigators – four years ago this week.
Some politicians in Kiev fear Mr Putin could offer the United States a deal on Syria in return for the removal of sanctions imposed over Ukraine, or for a reduction in US co-operation with a country that Russia wants to hold within its sphere of influence.
Mr Poroshenko expressed no such concerns, however, when revealing what he discussed with Mr Trump on the fringes of a fractious Nato summit last week.
“I can say that I’m very satisfied with the meeting,” he told Ukrainian television on Friday evening.
“We spoke, of course, about the need to strengthen Ukraine’s defences and improve co-operation, including in the defence sector,” Mr Poroshenko said.
“We talked about questions of energy security. And here we noted that we absolutely share the same positions and approaches . . . President [Trump] spoke very firmly in support of Ukraine and in support of energy independence [from Russia.”
Mr Poroshenko also asked Mr Trump to urge Mr Putin to free Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia, some of whom are on lengthy hunger strike.
Mr Putin could make such a gesture as PR gift to Mr Trump, and analysts say they could also discuss a UN peacekeeping mission for Ukraine - though agreement on its potential mandate has so far proved elusive.
While the US leader has remained vague on his intentions for the summit, other US officials insist there will be no major shift on Ukraine, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying recently that sanctions “will remain in place until Russia returns Crimea”.
Ukrainians may be eyeing the Helsinki summit with trepidation, but their president insists that he trusts the notoriously capricious US leader.
“Based on our agreed approach of doing nothing on Ukraine without Ukraine,” Mr Poroshenko wrote in the Financial Times last week, “I wish Mr Trump well in his efforts to bring Mr Putin back into line.”