President Trump has reportedly tapped as his ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) a hawkish critic of Russia who wants the U.S. to arm Ukraine. It’s the latest sign that the administration is reacting to criticism that it is too soft on Russia by pivoting to the other extreme.
Richard Grennell is a former Bush-era U.S. spokesperson at the United Nations who also served as a foreign policy spokesperson for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. He frequently appears on Fox News and other conservative outlets saying President Obama appeased Russia.
Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Obama resisted political pressure from hawks in Congress to provide lethal arms to the Ukranian government, fearing that doing so would only cause Russia to escalate its own military involvement.
Writing in The New York Times’s Room for Debate section in 2014, Grenell said that Obama’s belief that the U.S. could “support Ukraine but not antagonize Russia” represented “a naïve and dangerous world view.” In a Fox News op-ed, he proposed military escalation: “Offer advice and training to Ukraine, and sell it the lethal weapons required to contend with Russian armored personnel carriers, tanks and missiles,” he wrote, adding that the U.S. should also restart missile defense shield programs in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Grennell also counseled Obama to leave directly military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine “on the table.”
“The Obama doctrine only persuades Putin that he need never fear the U.S. military — the world’s most powerful deterrent,” he wrote. “Even if Obama would never start a war with Russia, he should stop swearing off military action in public. Instead, President Obama, through his inexhaustible number of speeches and statements, should rhetorically leave military action on the table.”
Although his support for arming Ukraine stretches back years, Grenell was continuing to advocate for lethal aid for Ukraine as recently as Tuesday via his Twitter account, which he frequently uses to opine on world affairs:
Grenell is not the only Russia hawk to step into Trump’s orbit recently.
His new national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, holds more moderate views on Islam than his bigoted predecessor Michael Flynn — but also has a more adversarial view of Russia. In May, he described the Russian annexation of Crimea as an attempt “to collapse the post-World War Two, certainly the post-Cold War, security, economic, and political order in Europe and replace that order with something that is more sympathetic to Russian interests.” While Trump has been critical of NATO — at one point in early January calling it “obsolete” — McMaster is a strong supporter of the alliance.
Trump’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has also taken a tough line with Russia during her first month on the job. “The dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions,” she said of Russian-allied forces there. She also affirmed continued support for U.S. sanctions on Russia that were enacted in response to the annexation of Crimea, saying: “The United States continues to condemn and calls for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea. Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control over the peninsula to Ukraine.”
Some Russian government officials, including those who were initially openly supportive of Trump, are starting to grow uneasy with the president’s approach, reported Moscow-based journalist Amie-Ferris Rotman for Foreign Policy. “We were too early in our decision, made with absolute sympathy towards President Trump’s constructive rhetoric, that he would somehow be pro-Russian,” Leonid Slutsky, who is head of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in February. “But he turned out to be pro-American.”