Sam Clovis, an academic and one-time rightwing talk radio host, was an early supporter of presidential candidate Donald Trump, switching his allegiance from Rick Perry to Trump in August 2015. He has also become a key part of the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 campaign because of his key role assembling an early group of foreign policy advisors and overseeing them as they made contacts with Russian nationals. But a campaign video from more than a year before Trump announced his candidacy suggests Clovis had strongly pro-Russian views on the crisis in Ukraine well before Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015.
The video, posted on March 17th, 2014, came one day after a Russian-sponsored referendum designed to legitimize the Russian annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The actual annexation took place one day later. Clovis was then a candidate for the Senate seat now held by Sen. Joni Ernst and the video was posted to his campaign site. He said his knowledge of Ukraine and Russia stemmed from his time in the US Air Force.
(The video was posted to Twitter on November 2nd by USAToday reporter Steve Reilly and picked up by TPM Investigations Desk reporter Tierney Sneed.)
Clovis’s short campaign video espouses the view of Russian nationalists that Ukraine is a historical part of Russia and that it is natural and expected that Russians will again wish to reincorporate Ukraine into the Russian state.
“Ukraine has been an independent nation for only 23 years.” Despite Ukraine’s desire to remain independent, continiues Clovis, “that doesn’t appear to be the case today because it appears that Russia, placing forces on the ground in Ukraine, will help assist them in moving back into the Russian empire. You must remember that Russia, the nation that we know, the historical Russia, actually originated in Ukraine. This is important for us to remmeber because Russians will want to expand back again into those old boundaries, the old empire.”
Clovis argues that the US should focus on supporting the countries that border Ukraine. “The US can do very little inside Ukraine but can do a great deal to support those nations that border Ukraine: Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary, Moldova. Those nations need to be assured that the United States will be there for them and the former Soviet Union will never ever ever ever be in place again.”
A day later, he repeated the talking point to Radio Iowa: “You go back, you know, 1500 years to the foundation of the Russia empire,” Clovis said. “It actually started in Ukraine and was evolved out of that.”
The views Clovis espouses are not unknown in the US. Indeed, Russia’s historic relationship with Ukraine is a key reason the US and its NATO allies have resisted bringing Ukraine into NATO and thus placing a NATO guarantee on Ukraine’s independence. But his statements are strikingly close to those espoused by Russian nationalists, indeed, even going significantly further than the Russian government itself is willing to do publicly.
One of the many mysteries of the Trump/Russia story is how Clovis fit into the Trump campaign’s pro-Russian tilt and indeed why Russia was so central to the campaign so early. According to the plea agreement unsealed earlier this month in the Mueller probe, soon after agreeing to serve as a Trump foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos was told by Clovis that “a principal foreign policy focus of the Campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia.”
Did that message originate with candidate Trump, Clovis or others in the embryonic campaign operation? In the aftermath of the now notorious change to the Republican convention platform in Cleveland, Clovis vigorously defended the change, arguing that the US must be careful to weigh the costs of such interventions. But this video suggests that well before he became associated with Trump, Clovis had a position on Ukraine that was highly sympathetic to Russia. Indeed, he suggested that Ukraine might be a natural and historic part of Russia.