Office of External Relations
January 18, 2020

President Trump – Don’t Go!

Putin has invited President Trump to the V-Day parade in Moscow this coming May. It is a military parade celebrating the Allied victory over the Axis powers in World War II. In Putin’s telling it is celebrating Russia’s victory in the war.

Yes, the Allies defeated the Axis 75 years ago and yes the Soviet Union – after starting the war with Nazi Germany against the Baltic States and Poland – became an ally after being attacked by Germany. But how often does Putin treat “Russia” as a synonym for “Soviet Union”? Doing so is an essential part of Putin’s historical propaganda narrative.

Our Ally at the end of the war was the Soviet Union, not Russia. Any anniversary that suggests otherwise is both wrong and an insult to the over 12,650,000 non-Russian Soviet dead from the war.

History and truth matter.

It should be obvious that President Trump should not attend Putin’s parade for the very reason the United States and other countries have imposed and maintain sanctions against Russia – beginning with Putin’s illegal invasion and on-going occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and then extending  additional sanctions for additional Russian military and other aggression.
Russia has killed thousands and hundreds of thousands and more have been displaced. The killing continues. This week’s U.S. report to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE in Vienna not only lists the ongoing Russian violations in Crimea and Donbas, but exposes Russia’s “ horrifying abuses” of prisoners.

Joining the leader of a country we and others have sanctioned for its military aggression, and who we have exposed as committing such abuses makes no sense.

Yes, I know President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush went to Moscow for V-Day celebrations but (a) that does not make going the right thing to do; and (b) those appearances were before Putin invaded Crimea, Donbas, acted against U.S. interests in the Middle East and even the Western Hemisphere, and interfered in our and other elections.  

Indeed, both celebrations attended by these American presidents focused on Russia’s role in winning the war and emboldened Putin and reinforced our public’s amnesia as to who was our Ally and continued the all-too-often misunderstanding that Russia and the Soviet Union were synonyms. That misunderstanding can be found time and again in historical and current public policy discussions. It is wrong and does not serve our interests to go along with the Kremlin’s self-serving propaganda.

President Trump commented about Putin’s invitation, "I was invited. I am thinking about it. It's right in the middle of our campaign season, but I am thinking -- I would certainly think about it," Trump said at the time.

"President Putin invited me ... It's a very big deal, celebrating the end of the war ... so I appreciate the invitation," he added. "I would love to go if I could."
No you should not go Mr. President!  Showing up would be a matter of being played by Putin. 

And, I might add, such a trip to Moscow could and should during the “campaign season” be noted critically by Americans – voters – of Armenian, Belarusian, Estonian, Georgian, Kazakhstani, Kyrgyzstani, Latvian, Lithuanian, Moldovan, Tajikistani, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistani, and Ukrainian ethnic background.

Getting President Trump to participate in Moscow’s celebration is not just about recalling the victory in World War II, it is about erasing the fact that Russia was not our Ally and that the Soviet Union was, with its 15 separate republics and their 83,990,000 citizens in 1940 and their collective 12,650,000 war dead.

And, it is about showing that despite sanctions he – Putin – and Russia are preeminent in their relationship with Washington to the diminution of our relationships with Putin's on-going victims – Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, et al.
Is that really the message the United States and President Trump wants to send? Does he really want to show he gives priority to our relationship with the international aggressor, the violator of numerous treaties and agreements, the one carrying out an on-going war against its neighbor, the purveyor of mischief throughout the world and international cyber assaults on ourselves and our Western allies? Does he want to show favoritism to an enemy over friends and allies, countries striving to become part of the West?

But if President Trump still thinks he should go to Putin’s show parade he could show bold leadership by doing the last thing Putin would want him to do

If President Trump still thinks he should go to Moscow to watch a grand show of the military Putin has assembled to threaten his neighbors and the world, the President should also visit Minsk and Kyiv to recognize the two countries, Belarus and Ukraine where most of the Soviet deaths took place during World War II.

It might help President Trump to recognize that his predecessor, President Obama never visited Kyiv as president. So much is said about Trump not having Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy to Washington; why not take the unique step of visiting Zelenskyy in Kyiv to recognize the immense contribution of the people of Ukraine to the victory in World War II and to show America’s longstanding and ongoing support of Ukrainian independence?

Indeed, President Trump might consider putting together a delegation of the Allies to visit Minsk and Kyiv to acknowledge their respective contributions of the other Soviet Republics to the war effort and their place in United States foreign policy, something that no U.S. President has ever done. It is time.

·          The source of the figures on the table is Vadim Erlikman.  Poteri narodonaseleniia v XX veke : spravochnik.  Moscow 2004.  ISBN   5-93165-107-1  pp. 23–35 Erlikman notes that these figures are his estimates

Views expressed here are those of the author - Bob McConnell - and not necessarily those of the FOUN.

Bob McConnell
Coordinator, External Relations
U.S.-Ukraine Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network

Robert A. McConnell is a co-founder of the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and Coordinator of External Relations for the Foundation’s Friends of Ukraine Network. He is Principal of R.A. McConnell and Associates. Previously, he has served as head of the Government Advocacy Practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, Vice President – Washington for CBS, Inc, and Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice during the Reagan Administration.
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