Hillary Clinton blames Trump for ‘giving aid and comfort’ to Putin before Ukraine invasion

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Hillary Clinton has blamed Donald Trump for “giving aid and comfort” to PresidentVladimir Putin, after the former US president called him a “genius” just days before Russia declared war on Ukraine.

The former secretary of state told MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Friday that the US and “what’s left of the Republican party” need to stand up against people within their own country who are showing support for “an enemy of freedom and democracy”.

She warned that Mr Trump “plays right into the ambitions” of both Mr Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping “to undermine democracy” and “literally divide and conquer the West without ever invading us”.

“We have to also make sure that within our own country we are calling out those people who are giving aid and comfort to Vladimir Putin, who are talking about what a genius he is, what a smart move it is, who are unfortunately being broadcast by Russian media, not only inside Russia, but in Europe to demonstrate the division within our own country,” she said.

“The national security emergency for democracy starts here at home where we have to be much more united in the face of what is a very real threat from Putin and his imperialistic ambitions.”

Follow live updates on the US’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Her comments come after Mr Trump sparked outrage for calling Mr Putin a “genius” and “a guy who’s very savvy” that knows “very, very well”.

On Tuesday – just over 24 hours before Russia first invaded and as Western leaders were implementing a first raft of sanctions to try to deter an attack – Mr Trump heaped praise on the Russian president.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius,’” he said when Mr Putin recognized the two Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent states in a move to send Russian troops over Ukraine’s border.

“Putin declares a big portion of Ukraine – Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.”

Following Thursday’s invasion, former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter have all spoken out to condemn Mr Putin.

Meanwhile, Mr Trump, who was impeached for withholding military aid from Ukraine, has refused to condemn the Russian president.

Instead, in a statement on Thursday, he claimed that the “deadly Ukraine situation would never have happened” if he was still in office.

Ms Clinton called the situation “heartbreaking” and “dangerous” and warned that such rhetoric is playing to the hands of the likes of Mr Putin “by setting us against each other”.

“This is heartbreaking, but it’s also dangerous, and I think it’s time for what’s left of the Republican Party that has any common sense not just to say, OK, go help defend Ukraine against Putin, but to stand against those people in politics and government, in the media and elsewhere in our own country who are literally giving aid and comfort to an enemy of freedom and democracy," she said.

“It can’t continue because it plays right into the ambitions of not just Putin, but also President Xi [Jinping] of China to undermine democracy, to literally divide and conquer the West without ever invading us, but by setting us against each other.”

Hillary Clinton called out Donald Trump for ‘giving aid and comfort’ to Putin (MSNBC)
Hillary Clinton called out Donald Trump for ‘giving aid and comfort’ to Putin (MSNBC)

Ms Clinton went on to say that the US had a bipartisan agreement after World War II “that we would stand with people who loved freedom like we do ... and against oppression and death”.

Now, she said there has been “a total loss of spine and conscience” in parts of the Republican party which means they are “too afraid to stand against even the most outrageous comments” from Mr Trump.

“Starting with the ascent of Trump there has been sadly a total loss of spine and conscience among too many Republicans who at first saw no harm in parroting and echoing the things Trump would say against history, against common sense and they’re now caught in a downward spiral where they’re too afraid to stand against even the most outrageous comments,” she said.

Ms Clinton slammed GOP members who see Mr Putin as a “strong leader” who has similar values to some Republicans in America as “naive”.

“These people are naive in such a dangerous way they somehow believe that because Putin presents himself as a strong leader and on certain values that are anti-gay and anti-freedom and democracy that are so messy that somehow that corresponds with the views of some members and some elements and views of the Republican party – they could not be more mistaken,” she said.

Many top Republicans have broken rank with Mr Trump and condemned Mr Putin, while calling on President Joe Biden to come down hard on the Russian leader.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy branded the invasion of Ukraine “reckless and evil” in a statement and vowed that “the United States stands with the people of Ukraine and prays for their safety and resolve”.

“Putin’s actions must be met with serious consequence. This act of war is intended to rewrite history and more concerning, upend the balance of power in Europe. Putin must be held accountable for his actions,” he said.

While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to comment on Mr Trump’s “genius” statement, he called on Mr Biden to “ratchet the sanctions all the way up” and branded Mr Putin “a bad guy”.

President Joe Biden unveiling a series of sanctions on Thursday (AP)
President Joe Biden unveiling a series of sanctions on Thursday (AP)

“Look, I just told you how I feel about the Russians,” he responded to a question on Thursday.

“Vladimir Putin is a bad guy. He’s an authoritarian. He yearns for an empire, and we need to do everything we can to stop it.”

Mr Putin declared war on Ukraine in a televised speech early on Thursday morning.

Within minutes of his announcement of a “special military operation”, explosions and air strikes rocked cities across Ukraine, including the capital Kyiv.

Now, more than 24 hours on, Russian forces have taken control of Chernobyl – the site of the worst nuclear disaster in world history – and have entered the northern districts of Kyiv.

At least 194 Ukrainian people have been killed with 57 civilians , including children, among the dead.

Fears are growing that the capital will fall to Russia in a matter of days with the Ukrainian government calling on citizens to defend their city from attack.

The international community has imposed sanctions on Russia, with Mr Biden unveiling a raft of new measures on Thursday afternoon including blocking Russia’s biggest banks, restricting its access to technologies and sanctioning people with ties to the Kremlin.