A new report suggests that President Donald Trump's aides may have been floating ideas for lifting at least some of President Barack Obama's sanctions on Russia in the days prior to the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Michael D. Cohen, the president's personal lawyer and long-time confidant, and Felix H. Sater, a former Trump business associate with ties to Russia, are reported to have met with Ukrainian parliament member Andrii V. Artemenko in New York City days before Flynn's resignation, according to The New York Times. The plan, which Cohen and Sater said they didn't discussed with the president, is eye popping. As the Times reported:
Mr. Artemenko said he saw in Mr. Trump an opportunity to advocate a plan for peace in Ukraine — and help advance his own political career. Essentially, his plan would require the withdrawal of all Russian forces from eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian voters would decide in a referendum whether Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized by Russia in 2014, would be leased to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years.
Given Russia's past history of rigging elections in Ukraine, this referendum would most likely be quite controversial. What's more, Artemenko has admitted having contacts with high-ranking Putin advisers and is currently working to oust Ukraine's current president, Petro O. Poroshenko, who has strongly opposed Putin's invasion.
Although The Times reported that Cohen left this proposal in a sealed envelope for Flynn's consumption prior to the latter's resignation, Cohen adamantly denied this to The Washington Post. "I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn," Cohen said, also describing reports to the contrary as "fake news." The Times' deputy managing editor, Matt Purdy, responded to The Post by stating that Cohen was essentially lying.
"Mr. Cohen told The Times in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn’s office at the White House," Purdy told the Post. "Mr. Sater told the Times that Mr. Cohen had told him the same thing."
In the aftermath of Flynn's resignation, Russian media outlets began significantly reducing their coverage of President Trump, deployed cruise missiles in violation of a Cold War-era treaty, and sent a spy ship near the American coast. Even as these provocations continue to escalate, the FBI is reported to be continuing at least three separate probes into Russia's hacking of the 2016 presidential election.