US presidential candidate Donald Trump made a bizarre appearance via video link to a major gathering of European politicians in Kiev on Friday, in which he promised to create a “very, very strong” US military and suggested organising “a safe zone some place in Syria”.

The audience, who were enjoying a four-course dinner during the video link, occasionally broke into laughter at his responses.

Trump was speaking to the Yalta European Strategy Forum, an annual gathering of politicians and businesspeople organised by Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Pinchuk. Former UK prime minister Tony Blair is a frequent guest at the forum, and spoke on Friday in a discussion with former Israeli president Shimon Peres. Trump’s video link was subject to a delay of several seconds, which appeared to confuse Trump. Nevertheless, he was able to touch on a number of major foreign policy issues in his opening remarks.

“My feeling toward the Ukraine and towards the entire area is very, very strong. I know many people that live in the Ukraine, they’re friends of mine, they’re fantastic people,” said Trump, who referred repeatedly to “the Ukraine”, apparently oblivious to the fact the use of the definite article when referring to the country is considered insulting by Ukrainians.

Trump praised Germany’s decision to take in Syrian refugees and proposed creating a “safe zone some place in Syria” in order to stop the flow of migrants travelling to Europe.

He criticised Germany and other European countries for not doing enough to support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia, however.

“We will make statements and I think those statements will be honoured,” he said of a putative Trump policy towards Ukraine. “The fact is that the Ukraine is an amazing place. These are people who know what’s right and they’re not being treated right.”

It was a change of tune from last month, when Trump said he “wouldn’t care” whether or not Nato accepted Ukraine as a member.

“Viktor I’ve known for a long time and he is a tremendous guy,” said Trump of the Ukrainian oligarch, who is married to the daughter of Ukraine’s former president, Leonid Kuchma. “When he was up seeing me I said I think I can learn more from you than you can learn from me.”

Trump spoke repeatedly about respect, noting that the world does not respect Barack Obama. He also accused Europe of lacking respect for Ukraine: “I don’t think that the Ukraine is given the proper respect from other parts in Europe. And this is a respect that the Ukraine deserves and they have proven this over many years,” he said, to a smattering of applause.

When asked about what changes a President Trump would make to the US military he said: “Our military would be very, very strong. Hopefully to a point where we wouldn’t have to use it because frankly we are not respected to the same extent we were in the past.”

Unfortunately, Trump’s video link was cut off before the assembled politicians had a chance to begin a question-and-answer session with the Republican frontrunner.

This article titled “Trump discusses Ukraine and Syria with European politicians via video link” was written by Shaun Walker in Kiev, for on Friday 11th September 2015 19.18 UTC

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