WASHINGTON, United States, Aug 1 – Hillary Clinton on Sunday sharply criticized Donald Trump over his “absolute allegiance” to Russian policy aims, saying it raised both “national security issues” and new doubts about his temperament.
Trump, her Republican rival in the race for the White House, responded defiantly, saying he had “no relationship” with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and had never met nor spoken to him by phone, but that “if our country got along with Russia, that would be a great thing.”
He said in an ABC interview that he was not about to disavow it if Putin praised him as a “genius” (some Russian speakers say “colourful” was a better translation of the word).
But further fanning controversy, Trump added that as president he would at least consider acknowledging Russian sovereignty over Crimea, the Ukrainian territory that Russia annexed in 2014 in the face of widespread international condemnation.
“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia,” Trump said.
The territory was the subject of a head-scratching exchange between Trump and ABC “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos.
“(Putin’s) not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand,” Trump said. “He’s not gonna go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down.”
Stephanopoulos responded: “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?”
Trump replied, “Okay – well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there.”
Clinton senior policy advisor Jake Sullivan called Trump’s statement “scary stuff.”
“What is he talking about? … What else doesn’t he know?” Sullivan said in a statement. “While Trump hasn’t mastered basic facts about the world, he has mastered Putin’s talking points on Crimea.”
Trump said he was not involved in Republicans’ softening of their platform language to remove a call to provide Ukraine with lethal weaponry.
The dispute over Russia is part of a broader disagreement over US engagement abroad, as Trump argues that a weakened America must retrench and demand greater contributions from its allies, while Clinton asserts that decades-old US commitments to foreign partners must be maintained.