In Ukraine

By Kenneth P. Vogel, David Stern and Michael Crowley, Politico.com, Friday, Feb 3, 2017

The president appears to take a harsher stance on Russia in an unusual private meeting

During an unusual private meeting on the sidelines of Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, President Donald Trump promised a Ukrainian opposition leader that the United States won’t lift sanctions on Russia until it pulls out of Ukraine, according to three people briefed on the meeting.

Within hours of meeting with both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the prayer breakfast, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko relayed the contents of the meeting to separate audiences at the Heritage Foundation and the Hudson Institute, according to people who attended the off-the-record events at the conservative think tanks.

The sources said that Tymoshenko, a member of parliament who is positioning herself for a presidential campaign against the beleaguered incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, told the think tanks that Trump assured her he would “not abandon” Ukraine, which claims that Russian troops are responsible for increased fighting in the region near the countries’ shared border. The international community largely supports this view, but Moscow denies it and blames the fighting on pro-Russian separatists.

While Trump had suggested during his campaign that he might be willing to ease sanctions against Russia related to its aggression against Ukraine, Tymoshenko said Trump assured her he would do no such thing — unless Russia withdrew from Ukraine, according to the people who attended the briefings.

They said Tymoshenko, who is generally regarded as pro-Western, did not discuss specifics at the think tank events, which were by invitation only and were closed to the press. Notably, it was unclear whether the conditions indicated by Trump to Tymoshenko for lifting sanctions included Russian withdrawal from Crimea, a Ukrainian territory to the country’s south, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and what Trump would consider a Russian withdrawal from eastern Ukraine, where Moscow has provided the separatists with arms and other support.

Still, one person who heard from Tymoshenko after the prayer breakfast, said “she definitely came away from her little tete-a-tete with Trump feeling somewhat calmer about the situation.”

And Tymoshenko’s characterization of her meetings with Trump and Pence would seem to mark a harsher tone towards Russia than the new president previously has struck publicly.

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