Addressing the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – hounded by the media over his contacts with Russian diplomats prior to Trump’s inauguration – Spicer pointed out that Russia “seized” Crimea under the Obama administration and that the Trump-appointed ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has “strongly denounced the Russian occupation.”
“President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea,” Spicer said at the daily news briefing on Tuesday. “At the same time, he fully expects to – and wants to – get along with Russia.”
Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin responded by citing the US Constitution and pointing out that Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to join Russia, after the US-backed coup in February 2014 overthrew the elected government in Kiev.
It is in the national and economic interest of the US to have a good relationship with Russia, Spicer explained, but said that Haley “speaks for the president” on the matter of Crimea.
Flynn’s resignation on Monday followed several weeks of media furor over his telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the US in December, after the outgoing Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and seized two properties. Moscow chose not to respond in kind.
“There is nothing that General Flynn did that was a violation of any sort,” Spicer said, explaining that the adviser was asked to resign because of Trump’s “eroding trust” after Flynn’s accounts of the conversation to administration officials did not square with what was leaked to the media.
Crimea became part of Russia in 1783, but was reassigned to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 by the Soviet Union’s ruling Presidium. Following the 2014 coup, Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to rejoin Russia in a referendum.
Other regions of Ukraine also resisted the new government. Kiev was able to brutally suppress dissent in Odessa and Kharkov, but ran into armed resistance in Donetsk and Lugansk. Efforts to negotiate a peaceful resolution between Kiev and the two breakaway regions, known as the Minsk Accords, make no mention of Crimea.