President Trump expects Russia to abandon its claim over the Crimean Peninsula, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said today.

Sanctions imposed by the United States during the Obama Administration will remain in place, until Russia ‘returns’ Crimea to the Ukrainian government.

The announcement is in line with others from the Trump Administration. On February 2nd, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said “Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine”

The timing of this message, and that it originates with President Trump, could have multiple implications. The first could be an effort to take attention off the embarrassing resignation of National Security Adviser LTG Michael Flynn.

Flynn had stirred controversy during the election for reportedly close ties to Putin and other Russian interests. His seemingly unusual warmth to Russian figures was used as possible evidence of collusion between Flynn and Russia. On Tuesday, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) called for a congressional investigation into Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Those phone conversations, made before Trump had assumed office, and Flynn’s subsequent ‘misleading statements’ to Vice President Mike Pence led to Flynn’s resignation Monday night.

The second implication is possibly more revealing of Trump’s motivations with regard to Russia. By coming down hard on Russia over Crimea, something Trump has in the past been wishy-washy over, Trump could be using whatever diplomatic leverage he’s gained with Russia so far through his more cordial overtones with Vladimir Putin, as means to more readily influence Russian actions—something that eluded the Obama administration—with other Trump priorities. Namely, ISIS.

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Given that the majority of Crimeans are sympathetic to the Russians, and in fact prefer Russian governance over Ukraine, it’s likely that for the time being Crimea and the Ukrainian issue are more or less intractable.

Forcibly making the Russians return Crimea may be a bridge too far. Far safer to maintain the status quo—Obama era sanctions—and attempt to work Russia into Trump’s number one foreign policy priority: destroying the Islamic State.

Image courtesy of New York Daily News