Jul 3, 2018

Changing course on Crimea is a bad deal for the U.S.

A billboard in Sevastopol, Crimea, in August 2017. The text reads: "Sevastopol is outpost of the future of Russia." Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

President Trump told reporters last week that he would “have to see” if the U.S. would change its policy on recognizing Russian occupation of Crimea, implying that the issue would be on the table when he meets President Putin later this month. But Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, said Crimea was not on the agenda for the summit because the peninsula, which Russia took by force in 2014, is already an “inseparable part of Russia.”

Be smart: The truth is that a 180º shift in U.S. policy on nonrecognition of Crimea is exactly what the Kremlin wants. It would give Putin a big win at home and abroad while setting a precedent for future land grabs by Russia, China and others.

During the Cold War, the U.S. never recognized Soviet occupation of the Baltic States —Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — a policy enshrined in the 1940 Welles Declaration, which established that the U.S. would not allow predatory behavior contrary to international law. And the U.S. government stood by this principle for five decades, until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Today, the Baltic states are NATO members as well as EU and U.S. allies. In short, the nonrecognition policy kept the U.S. on the moral high ground on the basis of principles, values and commitment to international law.

If the Trump administration moves to recognize Crimea, it would mark a de facto acknowledgment that international laws are obsolete; that other states have the right to take territories by force; and that U.S. sanctions tied to Russian occupation of Crimea are irrelevant. This would establish a dangerous precedent. No doubt, China would take such a move as a sign that it can ramp up its expansion into the South China Sea without much consequence.

The bottom line: In opening the door to a policy change on Crimea, the U.S. would give up significant leverage over Russia, a country the administration has called a U.S. adversary. The U.S. should seek to negotiate from a position of strength with Putin — changing course on Crimea would only achieve the opposite.

Alina Polyakova is the David M. Rubenstein Fellow for Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Go deeper

World coronavirus updates: Fewer deaths in Italy and Spain, U.K. toll jumps

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Health officials in Italy and Spain are seeing a glimmer of hope, as both countries reported a decline in deaths from the novel coronavirus Sunday. But the death toll continues to surge in the United Kingdom, which now has the world's fourth highest number of fatalities from COVID-19.

The big picture: The virus has killed more than 69,000 people and infected 1.25 million others globally as of early Monday, per Johns Hopkins data. Spain has reported the most cases outside the U.S. (more than 131,000) and Italy the most deaths (over 15,000). About half the planet's population is now on lockdown.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 26 mins ago - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll passes 9,600

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the novel coronavirus surpassed 9,600 in the U.S. Sunday night, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day since April 1.

Why it matters: U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said on Sunday this upcoming week will be "the hardest and saddest week of most Americans' lives" — calling it our "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment."

Go deeperArrowUpdated 51 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 1,274,956 — Total deaths: 69,487 — Total recoveries: 260,484Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 1 a.m. ET: 337,635 — Total deaths: 9,647 — Total recoveries: 17,530Map.
  3. Federal government latest: Surgeon general says this week will be "our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11 moment." The USDA confirms that a Bronx zoo tiger tested positive for coronavirus.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. Biden says DNC may have to hold virtual convention.
  5. States updates: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state is "literally going day-to-day" with supplies.
  6. World update: Queen Elizabeth II urges the British people to confront pandemic with "self-discipline" and "resolve" in rare televised address.
  7. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.