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Ukraine's Ambassador Struggles To Stay Silent About Donald Trump


Typically foreign ambassadors try to stay out of U.S. politics, but this is not a typical election cycle. Ukraine's ambassador to Washington is rattled by what he's hearing from the campaign trail. In particular, he's worried about what Donald Trump has been saying about his country and its powerful neighbor Russia. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this report.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Ambassador Valeriy Chaly attended both the Republican and Democratic conventions. He's gone over the party platforms and listened carefully to every word the candidates and their proxies had to say about Ukraine. He got really nervous when he heard Republican Donald Trump tell ABC's "This Week With George Stephanopoulos" that he would consider recognizing Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.


DONALD TRUMP: I'm going to take a look at it. But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that also.

KELEMEN: The next day, Trump said trying to get Crimea back would start World War III. He's also suggesting that he would ease sanctions on Russia, though as ambassador Chaly points out, even the watered-down Republican Party platform calls for maintaining sanctions until Ukraine's sovereignty is restored.

VALERIY CHALY: Mr. Trump said many things about Crimea, about sanctions, about other very sensitive issue that goes in contradiction of his official position of Washington today and position of Republican Party.

KELEMEN: We sit down in the Ukrainian embassy in Georgetown talking not just about Trump's statements but also about Trump's team. One foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, is an investment banker with ties to Russia's state-owned energy company, Gazprom. Another, Paul Manafort, worked for Ukraine's former pro-Russian president. And Chaly says he's not the only European diplomat with questions about these connections to Vladimir Putin.

CHALY: Mr. Putin want to have next American president sitting with him in the same table and decide about everything in the world, not taking into account any regulations or rules.

KELEMEN: Ambassador Chaly says Trump often talks about making a deal with Putin. This is politics, not business, Chaly says, and Ukraine and other nearby states don't want to be cut out of the deal. Trump, though, says he thinks it makes sense to work with Russia, particularly in the fight against ISIS. It's a line he repeats often on the campaign trail, as he did Monday at a rally in Pennsylvania.


TRUMP: If we could get Russia to help us get rid of ISIS, if we could actually be friendly with Russia, wouldn't that be a good thing? Is that so bad?


KELEMEN: Foreign policy matters like this don't often sway voters, but this is being heard by Ukrainian-Americans and other voters whose families come from former Soviet bloc countries. As ambassador Chaly points out, they tend to be Ronald-Reagan Republicans

CHALY: You know, traditionally, American-Ukrainians vote for Republicans from the Reagan period when Reagan was very strong against Soviet Union.

KELEMEN: Now he says many are conflicted. Chaly says he thinks there's still time for the Trump campaign to win back the Ukrainian diaspora if the Republican candidate sets the record straight about Ukraine.

CHALY: That's a country in the middle of Europe with 45 million people facing the open aggression from the neighbor, from Russia. And to - the discussion not about Ukraine. This discussion about American leadership, is discussion about the international order.

KELEMEN: And it's a discussion that he and his country want to be part of. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

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