National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan refused to say Sunday whether the United States would support Ukraine in trying to retake Crimea, the peninsula that was invaded and annexed by Russia in 2014.
During an appearance on NBC’s 'Meet the Press,' Sullivan repeatedly argued that Ukraine itself would have to define victory against Russia. Anchor Chuck Todd then reminded Sullivan that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy defined victory last year when he said, 'This Russian war ... began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – with its liberation.'
'President Zelenskyy did define victory, what he thought victory looked like in August of last year,' Todd told Sullivan on Sunday. 'There's always been a hesitancy among U.S. officials, Jake, and I know you're included here, about Crimea specifically. And it's always been, ‘Well, it's up to Ukraine.’ Well, President Zelenskyy said it – victory is all of the territory back. Why don't we say the same thing now?'
Sullivan sidestepped the question, saying the U.S. would support Ukraine’s efforts to take back its 'internationally recognized borders.'
'Well, we have repeatedly talked about Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders,' Sullivan said. 'The question for us is how do we put Ukraine in the best position on the battlefield so that they are ultimately in the best position at the negotiating table. And President Zelenskyy as recently as this week has said we're going to have to ultimately get to a diplomatic phase of this conflict.'
'So from our perspective, our goal is to strengthen the hands of the Ukrainians on the battlefield so that they are in the strongest position with the most leverage when they get to the negotiating table to ultimately achieve an outcome that restores Ukraine's full sovereignty and territorial integrity,' he said.
'If they want to take Crimea militarily, will the United States help Ukraine do that?' Todd pressed again, to no avail.
'Chuck, the critical thing right now is that they need to take back the territory in the south and the east that they are currently focused on, and we need to give them the tools to be able to do that,' Sullivan responded.
'The question of Crimea, and the question of what happens down the road is something that we will come to,' he said. 'Where we are right now, is that we need to be focused on the immediate term, because it is critical that we move fast and we move decisively to help them take back the territory across that line of contact that Russian troops are currently occupying.'
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, appeared later on the show and criticized Jake Sullivan for not being more definitive on Crimea.
'I think they should be more clear,' he said. 'I think it should be all the territorial integrity of the entire country, which includes Crimea. And so yes, I think they need more clarity on that, and the national security adviser didn’t demonstrate it in his interview with you today.'