“I walked in yesterday and there was a TV screen, and I said, ‘This is great. Putin declares a large part of Ukraine, Ukraine, Putin declares it independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said in an interview on “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show.”
The ex-president added: “So Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent’, a big part of Ukraine. I said, ‘Is that smart?’ And he’s going to come in and be a peacekeeper. He’s the most powerful force for peace,” Trump said. “We could use him on our southern border. It is the strongest force for peace I have ever seen. …Here is a guy who is very wise. … I know him very well. Very very good.”
Indeed, the ex-president is trying to undermine American foreign policy as the current president tries to stop a war that could kill thousands and threaten post-Cold War peace.
But it’s no surprise that Trump praises everything Putin does, given his genuflects to the Russian leader during his tenure. Given that he tried to stage a coup that would have destroyed American democracy, it’s also not shocking that he doesn’t worry about Ukraine’s loss of freedom. Trump has previously stood with Putin at a summit in Helsinki and trashed US intelligence agencies that said Moscow interfered in the 2016 election to help him. And Trump has tainted Ukraine’s democracy himself, seeking to extort President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into then-Democratic rival Biden – an abuse of power that earned him the first of his two impeachments. historical.
More than the average Trump controversy
In Tuesday’s lifeline hierarchy, the ex-president’s boastful ramblings have nothing to do with the alarming events in Eastern Europe. But his comments represented more than normal carnival barking and the prioritization of personal obsessions over the national interests Trump is known for.
No other living former president would dream, let alone get away with it, touting a Russian leader who could soon fight the biggest war in Europe since World War II after he declared on Monday that Ukraine had no right to exist.
But Trump’s status as the likely frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024 — and the possibility that he could return to power — takes his latest chant about Putin’s gangsterism to a new level. It sends the promise of future favors and endorsement of Putin’s illegal land grabs, suggesting he would do little to undo them as president.
Trump’s latest idolization of Putin is likely to deepen the growing divide within the GOP between mainstream hawks, who have sometimes praised Biden for standing up to the Russian leader, and pro-Trump lawmakers — and conservative media stars like Tucker Carlson – who side with Putin.
Former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a possible future Republican presidential candidate, also recently hailed Putin, a scourge of democracy, as a “very talented” and gifted statesman. “He was a KGB agent for god’s sake. He knows how to use power. We have to respect that,” Pompeo told Fox in January.
That it came from leading members of former President Ronald Reagan‘s party, who implored then-Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in divided Berlin and who has been credited with won the Cold War, represents a startling surprise transformation. And it shows how far the GOP has strayed from its adherence to core US democratic values in its pursuit of power.
Some Republicans have been more subtle in their criticisms of Biden. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed the president’s efforts to unite Western allies behind the United States to confront Putin and favors tough sanctions to punish the Russian leader. But not for the first time on Tuesday, the Kentucky Republican demonstrated he was willing to play both sides – accusing Biden of bringing on the crisis out of weakness.
“I don’t believe Vladimir Putin would have a few hundred thousand troops on the border with Ukraine if we hadn’t pulled out of Afghanistan in a hurry last August,” McConnell said Tuesday in Lexington. “The impression we left, first with the abandonment of Afghanistan, is that America is no longer interested in playing such a significant leadership role as before.”
McConnell is tapping into a sentiment shared by many Americans on both sides that the US evacuation from Afghanistan last year was chaotic and poorly planned and damaged perceptions of Biden’s leadership abroad. At the same time, however, Biden’s leadership in this crisis has been more assured. It has, for example, brought the members of NATO closer together than they have been for many years.
The idea that Biden is weak against Putin is sure to play out on the midterm campaign all year. But for Republicans to make such an accusation for their complicity in Trump’s obsequious attitude towards Putin is hypocritical and absurd. The House Republican leadership, which is in Trump’s pocket, accused Biden of “appeasement” on Tuesday – the same day their de facto leader called Putin a “genius”.
Trump’s repeated flattery of Putin
While the last administration often took a tough stance against Russia, it was repeatedly undermined by Trump’s overflowing admiration for Putin in public and his habit of making impulsive decisions that played into foreign policy goals. of Russia, including the American withdrawal from northern Syria.
Trump hailed Putin in Tuesday’s interview as a “tough cookie” who loves his country and he insisted he had stopped Putin from invading Ukraine under his watch.
“I knew he still wanted Ukraine. I used to talk to him about it. I said, ‘You can’t do it. You’re not going to do it.’ But I could see he wanted it,” the former president said. In fact, Trump suggested during his 2016 campaign that Russia could keep Crimea, another Ukrainian territory that Putin annexed in 2014. “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where he was,” Trump said, repeating a Kremlin talking point.
The idea that Trump’s tenacity prevented Putin from invading Ukraine is undermined not just by his crony exchanges with a leader who has jailed opponents and presides over a country where journalists are often killed.
One of the aims of Putin’s pressure on Ukraine – as he has repeatedly said – is to bring NATO back to its borders at the end of the Cold War and to divide the Western alliance. With Trump in power, the Russian leader hasn’t had to worry about the latter goal, as his counterpart in the White House has frequently berated transatlantic allies and moved closer to U.S. enemies.
And it’s not like Putin let America down when Trump was in power. Cyberattacks emanating from Russian soil have also taken place throughout the Trump presidency, including Operation SolarWinds which breached US federal agencies. The supposed respect of the United States did not prevent Russian agents from using a biological weapon on British soil to poison a defector, according to the British government.