Trump’s Advisers Draw Up Plan to Give Ukraine Twisted Ultimatum

Tom Brenner/Reuters
Tom Brenner/Reuters

It’s anyone’s guess at this point how Donald Trump intends to actually deliver on his claim that he’ll quickly end Russia’s war in Ukraine if he wins the presidential election in November. But his advisers are starting to share details of one potential course of action which could force Kyiv into deciding to negotiate with Vladimir Putin or face the prospect of being deprived of vital American weapons.

Two of the former president’s advisers, retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg and Fred Fleitz, have presented Trump with the plan to present Ukraine with the ultimatum if he returns to the White House, according to Reuters. Fleitz told the news agency that Trump responded favorably to the plans, saying: “I’m not claiming he agreed with it or agreed with every word of it, but we were pleased to get the feedback we did.”

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Kellogg—who, like Fleitz, served as a chief of staff in Trump’s National Security Council during Trump’s presidency—said the plan would simultaneously involve telling Putin that a refusal to negotiate with Ukraine would lead to the U.S. ramping up its aid to Kyiv. A ceasefire would take place based on existing battle lines while the hypothetical peace talks took place.

“We tell the Ukrainians, ‘You’ve got to come to the table, and if you don’t come to the table, support from the United States will dry up,’” Kellogg told Reuters of the plan. “And you tell Putin, ‘He’s got to come to the table and if you don’t come to the table, then we’ll give Ukrainians everything they need to kill you in the field.’”

A research paper from the America First Policy Institute, a Trump-aligned think tank where Kellogg and Fleitz have leadership roles, reportedly outlines the central proposals of the plan. The paper says the U.S. and other NATO countries should make an offer to Russia to “put off NATO membership for an extended period” in exchange for a peace deal and security guarantees in order to “convince Putin to join peace talks.”

Earlier this month, Putin shared a list of demands for him to stop the war. One of those demands was for Ukraine to give up its hopes of joining the military bloc, saying Kyiv would have to do so before peace talks could begin. Another called for Ukraine to withdraw its troops from areas in its own territory which Moscow claims to have annexed.

A Washington Post report in April claimed Trump had privately said he could bring the conflict to an end by pressuring Ukraine to cede some of its territory to Russia, which some foreign policy experts denounced as tantamount to rewarding Putin for his invasion (a Trump campaign adviser dismissed the report as “fake news”).

Fleitz now says the plan floated to Trump wouldn’t involve Ukraine needing to formally relinquish land, but he said it’s unlikely that Kyiv would re-establish effective control of the entirety of its territory in the near future. “Our concern is that this has become a war of attrition that’s going to kill a whole generation of young men,” he told Reuters.

Kyiv has remained steadfast in its view that peace negotiations will only begin once Moscow removes all its troops from Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also dismissed Putin’s recent demands as “ultimatum messages.” “It’s the same thing Hitler did, when he said ‘give me a part of Czechoslovakia and it’ll end here’,” Zelensky told Italian media, according to the BBC.

“President Trump has repeatedly stated that a top priority in his second term will be to quickly negotiate an end to the Russia-Ukraine war,” Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung told Reuters, adding that only statements made by Trump himself or authorized members of his campaign should be considered official. “The war between Russia and Ukraine never would have happened if Donald J. Trump were president,” Cheung said. “So sad.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the news agency that Putin “has repeatedly said that Russia has been and remains open to negotiations, taking into account the real state of affairs on the ground.”

“We remain open to negotiations,” Peskov said.

Elsewhere on Tuesday, Putin again pushed his own demands in a message read out at a summit in Moscow.

“I hope that, unlike many Western politicians who did not even want to delve into the essence of the initiative we put forward, the forum participants will approach its consideration thoughtfully and rationally and will be able to see that it really provides for the possibility of stopping the conflict and moving on to its political and diplomatic settlement,” the message read, according to state media.

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