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Politics

What Ukrainians Think About Trump and ‘Quid Pro Quo’ in 3 Charts

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What Ukrainians think about Trump and his ‘quid pro quo’ in 3 charts

by Erik C. Nisbet and Olga Kamenchuk for The Conversation

As Americans turn their attention to the first public hearings in the House impeachment investigation, there is another country that has been affected by the scandal that’s fueling the investigation: Ukraine. 

What do the Ukrainian people think of the impeachment controversy?

The congressional investigation centers on Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy into opening a corruption investigation into presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Trump allegedly threatened to withhold US$400 million in U.S. foreign military aid aimed at countering Russian aggression. The ongoing military conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of Ukraine has claimed more than 13,000 lives to date.

Reportedly, Zelenskiy was prepared to bow to this pressure, until luck spared him making such a decision

What decision do Ukrainians think their president should have made when faced with Trump’s apparent “quid pro quo?” Do they believe the Trump administration supports Ukraine? 

As part of our ongoing research on Eurasian security and governance at the Ohio State University Mershon Center for International Security Studies, we posed these questions to 2,000 Ukrainians.

Our results show how Trump’s purported attempt to co-opt Ukraine’s precarious position with Russia worsens divides inside Ukraine and weakens U.S. influence.

Dividing Ukraine

Between Oct. 4 and 16, we conducted face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of Ukrainians over the age of 18 in the government controlled areas of Ukraine. 

We asked what their president should do if pressured by the U.S. president to open an investigation into his political opponent in return for needed U.S. aid – similar to what Trump is accused of doing. 

There is no consensus on this question among Ukrainians. 

Nearly one-third believe their president should stall an investigation until after the election is over if faced with this scenario. 

At the same time, 1 in 5 believe their president should take the deal of an investigation for aid. 

Only a small percentage, 12%, believe their president should reject such a quid pro quo and forego the aid. The remainder did not know what the president of Ukraine should do. 

Ukraine is a divided society with major regional and ethnic differences, and these divisions are reflected in how these opinions vary by region. 

Support for this sort of deal was highest in western Ukraine, where 35% thought the Ukrainian president should agree to open an investigation in return for foreign aid. This strong support reflects western Ukraine’s status as bastion of Ukrainian nationalism and anti-Russian fervor.

In contrast, in southern and eastern Ukraine, where there are more Russian speakers and less nationalist sentiment, people felt differently about trading political aid for financial assistance.

Survey respondents in southern Ukraine were the least supportive of agreeing to Trump’s alleged quid pro quo. Support for rejecting it altogether was highest in eastern Ukraine.

Weaker US influence

We asked respondents how supportive the Trump administration is of Ukraine, as compared to previous American administrations.

Ukrainians are again divided on this question. 

The plurality of respondents, 32%, believe the Trump administration provides the same amount of support to Ukraine as previous administrations. 

But nearly one-quarter of Ukrainians said the Trump administration was more supportive, while 19% view it as less supportive.

Trump himself is also a now a divisive figure in Ukraine. When asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable toward him, 37% of Ukrainians have an unfavorable opinion, 44% have a neutral opinion and 21% have a favorable opinion. 

By comparison, 66% of Ukrainians report a favorable opinion of President Zelenskiy.

To us, this suggests that Trump’s alleged quid pro quo hampers the U.S. government’s ability to exert its influence in Ukraine. It further divides Ukraine across regional and ethnic lines and raises doubts among a significant portion of Ukrainians about how much the U.S. will support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.

Amplifying false narratives about the US

Narratives depicting the Ukrainian government as a puppet of the United States and its allies are commonly promoted by Russian propaganda outlets throughout Ukraine. 

For example, 30% of Ukrainians believe the U.S. and NATO orchestrated the crisis between Ukraine and Russia in order to take control of Ukraine. 

Thirty-four percent also believe the West does not want the conflict in Donbas to end, in order to keep Ukraine weak. 

We also showed respondents a fake news story about the U.S. State Department special representative to Ukraine violating Ukrainian election laws by publicly supporting Zelenskiy’s opponent Petro Poroshenko in the last presidential election. More than a quarter believed it was true.

In this information environment, in which a sizable percentage of Ukrainians already believe their government is a puppet of the U.S., we worry that Trump’s alleged attempt to pressure Zelenskiy could further amplify these widespread false narratives among the people of Ukraine.

Erik C. Nisbet and Olga Kamenchuk are Associate Professors and Co-Directors of the Eurasian Security and Governance Program, The Ohio State University 

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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Politics

White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins

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White House Gift Shop Selling Coronavirus Commemorative Coins

WASHINGTON, DC (TMZ) — The White House Gift Shop is hawking some odd memorabilia … a coronavirus commemorative coin no one asked for.

The COVID-19 coin features the names of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence … and it depicts an empty presidential podium on one side, and a graphic of the novel coronavirus above the world on the other side.

The coin also shouts out the rest of the COVID-19 task force … with smaller printed names for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Surgeon General Dr. Jerome AdamsDr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The collector’s item is emblazoned with tons of slogans … including “Together We FOUGHT The UNSEEN Enemy,” “Everday HEROES Suited Up,” and “Everyday CITIZENS Did Their Part.”

The White House Gift Shop is already taking pre-orders for the coin … and the price is slashed from $125 down to $100. The store, which is privately run and only loosely related to the actual White House, claims proceeds will be donated to hospitals.

The COVID-19 coin is the 11th in the gift shop’s “Historic Moments” collection, which also commemorates Trump’s meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

So, at least the coronavirus coin is in … good company.

Trump's Coin Collection

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Politics

Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are ‘Very Good People’

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Trump Thinks Armed Michigan Protesters Are 'Very Good People'

MICHIGAN (TMZ) — President Trump has found another group of “very good people” … the gun-toting right-wing extremists who stormed the Michigan statehouse to protest coronavirus restrictions.

Trump is strongly supporting the heavily-armed protesters … he says they are very good, very angry people who deserve a seat at the table with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.

Mind you, Michigan does not meet the very same federal guidelines for reopening that the President and his coronavirus task force announced last month.

Trump tweeted out his support of the rifle-clad protesters and tried to shift the onus on Whitmer, saying … “The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry.”

POTUS added … “They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.”

The protesters are up in arms over the fact Gov. Whitmer extended the state’s emergency stay-at-home order until the end of May.

Of course, Trump started the battle cry for the “liberation” of several states — including Michigan — just hours after he laid out the federal guidelines. He, at least, said reopening should be done slowly and smartly … based on data.

That’s apparently out the window.

It has to be said … Trump’s comments about the Michigan protesters are reminiscent of the Charlottesville rioters, who he called very fine people.

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Health

Trump’s Own Officials Depended on WHO. Then He Turned Against It.

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Trump’s Own Officials Depended on WHO to Fight Coronavirus. Then He Turned Against It.

As President Donald Trump publicly bashed the World Health Organization over its response to the coronavirus pandemic last week, American aid officials tried to delicately sidestep the political tensions, internal documents shared with ProPublica show.

And Trump’s campaign upended weeks of partnership between his own administration and the WHO, which provides advice and support for health officials in developing countries. The U.S. Agency for International Development had chosen to funnel much of its pandemic response through the WHO.

Even as they dealt with the fallout of Trump’s decision to cut off WHO funding, his administration leaned on it for expert advice.

“Given the political dynamics, I do not recommend reference to WHO here or below,” wrote one U.S. Agency for International Development career official in a comment on a draft report about how emergency funding would be spent. “Recommend deleting.”

The April 10 comment on the document prompted a rebuttal a few days later from another career official, one of many who argued that the WHO’s role in the health crisis should not be caught up in a political spat.

“It’s actually important to reference WHO standards during this type of emergency pandemic response – even with current political dynamics,” wrote the official, who argued for leaving in the mention of the WHO. It’s unclear which wording made it into the final version of the document.

A redacted image of comments left on a USAID draft document suggesting omitting a reference to the WHO.

The exchange was just one example of the angst that spread throughout USAID as it became clear that Trump would follow through with his April 10 threat to cut off WHO funding, and it was indicative of efforts by officials to downplay the role of an important public health partner. Just a few days later, on Tuesday, Trump paused all U.S. funding for the WHO, upending crucial plans for containing the virus in developing countries and bolstering China’s narrative that it is stepping into the traditional U.S. role of global leader.

Interviews with current and former U.S. officials and the internal documents and communications show that despite Trump’s recent disparagement of the WHO, his administration was for weeks relying heavily on its expertise and global reach to fight the pandemic. And in a public relations battle between China and the U.S. over global leadership, American diplomats and aid officials have cited robust U.S. funding of the WHO as a key supporting argument.

The WHO’s expertise is a critical resource for developing countries that lack their own strong public health sectors, said Jeremy Konyndyk, a former USAID official during the Obama administration. Cutting the WHO out of funding means the U.S. is eliminating its own ability to control the pandemic in those countries, he said.

“If you want to try and fight a public health crisis in a developing country without the WHO, you are lost from the outset,” Konyndyk said.

Particularly in conflict zones where the U.S. has limited or no reach, such as Syria, Yemen and Libya, working with the WHO is crucial, one U.S. official said on the condition of anonymity.

Just one day after Trump’s announcement, on Wednesday, WHO staff held a presentation for USAID’s Global Health Bureau on health care in conflict settings, according to a description of the meeting seen by ProPublica.

USAID, the State Department and the White House did not respond to requests for comment. The WHO referred ProPublica to comments on Wednesday by its director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying that his organization hopes the U.S. will continue to be a “generous friend” and that his agency “works to improve the health of many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.”

The State Department and USAID turned to the WHO soon after the agencies received nearly $1.3 billion in new funding from Congress to address the pandemic in March. That funding had few strings attached, meaning officials could disburse it largely as they saw fit and did not have to channel it through the WHO or any other specific entity.

In a March memo outlining the administration’s global pandemic response, obtained by ProPublica, officials wrote that the U.S. would work “in close coordination with” the WHO. Several strategy elements mentioned the WHO.

In a March 31 public statement, the State Department highlighted U.S. assistance to the WHO, boasting that the agency’s “broad-based effort would not be possible without U.S. support.” The statement made repeated swipes at China, comparing U.S. funding of multilateral organizations to China’s much lower contributions.

That view was also reflected in an internal document dated April 13 and titled “Countering People’s Republic of China (PRC) Propaganda on Health and Humanitarian Aid.” It cited “critical support” from the U.S. to “the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Food Program and dozens of other organizations.”

Internal State Department guidance sent in early April, with diplomatic talking points about U.S. assistance, encouraged “Ministries of Health to reach out to the local WHO representative and other local partners to inquire about laboratory test kits, reagents, and supplies, laboratory supplies, and test kit availability in your region.”

The guidance also served as an endorsement of the WHO’s unique capabilities. “WHO uses existing agreements and its vast network of procurement mechanisms to purchase tests on behalf of countries that cannot afford them,” it said.

The U.S. quickly funneled nearly $700,000 each to Morocco and Iraq via the WHO last month. In response to a White House query this week, USAID officials compiled information on several grants they had made to the WHO that were supporting coronavirus relief and detection efforts in South Africa, India, Angola and elsewhere, according to a spreadsheet seen by ProPublica.

U.S. officials working on the response said they now worry about how they can help countries if they can’t channel the assistance via the WHO.

“For several countries, the WHO is the only way we can help them,” one official said. “We know nothing about anyone else who’s operating there.”

The significant U.S. reliance on the WHO in the Middle East prompted officials in the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs to write a memo to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning of the consequences of a funding halt. The memo, a draft version of which was seen by ProPublica, warned of undermining the global response to the pandemic, threatening American lives, and ceding ground to China.

Indeed, Trump officials have been preoccupied with the idea that China is winning the global PR battle. On Thursday morning, White House, State Department, USAID and Pentagon officials held a conference call to discuss the issue, focusing on the Middle East. Several diplomats in the region said that talking points against China gain little traction in their countries, according to someone with knowledge of the call.

Privately, USAID officials acknowledge that China is well ahead of the U.S. in pushing the narrative that it is the leading humanitarian actor responding to the pandemic, according to meeting notes and emails seen by ProPublica.

One U.S. embassy in North Africa reported to officials in Washington this week that the Chinese had until recently avoided bashing the U.S. in favor of boosting their own donations of medical equipment. There was one exception, they noted: The Chinese took the opportunity to highlight the U.S. decision to halt funding to the WHO.

Do you have access to information about the U.S. government response to the coronavirus that should be public? Email yeganeh.torbati@propublica.org. Here’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

ProPublica is an independent, nonprofit newsroom that produces investigative journalism with moral force. We dig deep into important issues, shining a light on abuses of power and betrayals of public trust. Follow on Twitter at @ProPublica 

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