When Donald Trump saw a CNN report about a United States Navy mission in the Black Sea earlier this year, he phoned then-National Security Advisor John Bolton at home to complain. Trump was worried that the routine mission could be seen as a “challenge to Russia,” according to testimony by a former top aide the U.S. envoy to Ukraine Christopher Anderson. His testimony was released on Monday by the congressional impeachment inquiry and is available online via Document Cloud.
The January mission, known as a Freedom of Navigation Operation, was then called off, according to Anderson’s testimony. But a similar FONOP took place in February, without any objection from Trump, Anderson said, noting that the CNN report of the initial operation was framed incorrectly “as if this were a direct response to Russia and that it was a challenge to Russia.”
The planned Navy mission, in which a U.S. Navy warship was intended to sail through the Black Sea, came just weeks after Russian ships in the region fired upon a fleet of Ukrainian naval ships, and rammed one, according to an earlier CNN report.
The Russians captured three Ukrainian vessels and 24 crew members. The incident caused a crisis in Ukraine, with the government declaring martial law in several regions of the country.
“We met with Ambassador Bolton and discussed this, and he made it clear that the president had called him to complain about that news report,” Anderson, an expert on Ukraine, testified, according to the newly released transcript.
“I can’t speculate as to why, but that, that operation was canceled, but then we were able to get a second one for later in February.”
Anderson also testified that following the Russian attack on the Ukrainian vessels in November, some State Department officials quickly drafted a statement condemning Russia for the “escalation” of its conflict with Ukraine that has been going on since 2014. But the White House refused to allow the statement condemning Russia’s actions to be publicly released, The Washington Post reported.
Trump’s apparent attempt to strong-arm the president of Ukraine into announcing investigations that would benefit Trump politically at home is at the center of the impeachment inquiry currently underway in the House of Representatives.
But Anderson’s revelations appear to go beyond Trump’s desire to simply gain an advantage in the upcoming election, and indicate that Trump has acted to avoid offending the Russian government, at the expense of Ukrainian security.
Also central to the impeachment inquiry is Trump’s alleged order to hold back badly needed military aid from Ukraine — aid essential to Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion — as leverage to force Ukraine to announce the baseless investigations.