In his first interview since a failed coup attempt in Ukraine last week, President Donald Trump appeared to echo the president’s assertion that he is willing to take on Russia, saying that the “strong and strong” US has the capacity to do so.
“We have the capacity,” he said.
“The question is what we do with it.
If it is going to be a strong, strong United States, and we can do it militarily, that is a different question.
But the question is, how do we do it diplomatically, politically?”
Asked about the crisis in Ukraine, which has seen pro-Moscow separatists seize government buildings and threaten to break away from the European Union, Trump said: “I think we can make a lot of deals with Russia.”
The US has not intervened in Ukraine since a 2013 ceasefire agreement collapsed, with Moscow backing rebels who have been fighting to oust pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in a civil war that has killed hundreds of people.
Trump said the “bad guys” in Ukraine are “really, really bad” and he has “great respect” for the country’s government.
But he said the US cannot “have the advantage” of having an army of 100,000 troops and is concerned about the impact of the US-led military alliance against the rebels.
“It’s a different ball game,” he told ABC News’ Martha Raddatz on “This Week”.
“We can’t have the advantage of having the troops that we have.
We can’t do it.”
Trump said Russia has “really been very, very aggressive” in supporting the rebels, but he did not give specifics about how much Moscow was giving.
Russia has been accused of sending military aid to the rebels and is accused of having its troops deployed on the ground in the Ukraine.
Russia and Ukraine have not made direct contact since the truce collapsed, and Russia has said it will not recognise the ousting of Yanukovich, but there has been no direct US military response to the Kiev coup attempt.
Russia’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday that “serious military activity” was taking place in eastern Ukraine, adding that Russian military advisers and servicemen were also present in the country.
“In particular, military advisers have been present in Crimea and have been active in the area, carrying out drills and exercises,” the ministry said in a statement.
The US is concerned by the Russian military presence in eastern and southern Ukraine, especially in Crimea, which Trump and Putin have said should be returned to Ukraine.US Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, called on the US to provide Ukraine with military assistance.
“President Trump should do everything in his power to ensure that the Ukrainian military can protect their own people, and not be turned into pawns of Russian aggression,” Paul said in an email to Reuters.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Russia said on Monday that it was preparing for an all-out military offensive against Ukraine and warned that Washington was “preparing for a long-term confrontation”.
Russia has already carried out a number of military actions in eastern regions of Ukraine.
On Saturday, Ukrainian forces backed by pro-Russia separatists seized government buildings in the city of Donetsk, after Kiev had imposed a ceasefire in the eastern region.
Ukraine’s interim government declared a state of emergency in the Crimea region on Tuesday and announced that a new, temporary military law would be introduced in Crimea to allow it to impose martial law.
Ukraine said on Thursday that its military forces were deploying in Crimea after the military declaration of a state, with Ukrainian forces in the region reportedly using tanks and armoured personnel carriers.
Ukraine is still in a state in which it is unclear how the country will handle its security situation, as many pro-Western activists and government officials have fled to Russia.
The new military order in Crimea was welcomed by the Kremlin, which said on Twitter that it had received a notification of a military intervention by Ukraine in Crimea.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said on Tuesday that the military intervention was a response to an illegal referendum held on March 11 that put the Ukrainian flag atop the government building of the eastern city of Simferopol.
Russia, which backs Ukrainian separatists who have seized government structures in the east of the country, said it had deployed troops to Crimea to support the pro-Ukrainians.
“There are more than 100,00 servicemen on the territory of Crimea, they’re fully deployed in the territory and will be coming to the territory in the near future,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a briefing on Thursday.
“I can confirm that there are more troops and more armoured vehicles and artillery than in the past,” she added.
Russia was also quick to say that it would not recognise any further referendums held in Crimea in violation of the law signed by the country in March.
“Our position is clear, it is not possible to recognise any future referendum held in the Crimean region in violation with the constitution