Trump praised Putin's justification to invade Ukraine as 'genius' and 'savvy'
Trump praised Vladimir Putin as "savvy" following news of an impending Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"This is genius," Trump said of Putin's recognition of two breakaway Ukrainian regions.
He said Biden shouldn't send troops to Ukraine and he'd "rather see our southern border protected."
Former President Donald Trump praised Vladimir Putin in a podcast interview on Tuesday, describing the Russian president's justification for invading Ukraine as "savvy" and "genius."
In an appearance on the "Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show," Trump said Putin's recognition of the independence of the Ukrainian breakaway republics of Donetsk and Luhansk — two-thirds of which are controlled by Ukraine and are not recognized by most other nations but backed by Russia — was a smart move.
"I went in yesterday, and there was a television screen, and I said, 'This is genius.' Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that's wonderful," Trump said when asked about the news. "I said, 'How smart is that?' And he's going to go in and be a peacekeeper."
Trump baselessly claimed that the reason the Russian president chose to invade Ukraine now — rather than during his own presidency — was that he had a better relationship with Putin than President Joe Biden did.
"I knew Putin very well. I got along with him great. He liked me. I liked him," Trump said. "I mean, you know, he's a tough cookie, got a lot of the great charm and a lot of pride. But the way he — and he loves his country, you know? He loves his country."
Trump's assertion that Putin moved to invade Ukraine because Trump was no longer in office ignored that Russia was fueling a war against Ukrainian forces in the Donbas throughout his time in the White House. Moreover, Trump was impeached in 2019, in part, for withholding about $400 million in military aid from Ukraine as it contended with this conflict against Kremlin-backed rebels. The war has killed over 13,000 people and displaced 1.5 million.
Trump froze the congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine as he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch investigations into Biden and his son Hunter over baseless allegations of corruption. He also wanted Zelensky to pursue an inquiry into a bogus conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Asked what went wrong with respect to Ukraine, Trump on Tuesday repeated his long-standing and false claims that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.
"Well, what went wrong was a rigged election and what went wrong is a candidate that shouldn't be there and a man that has no concept of what he's doing," Trump said, later adding that an invasion "never would have happened with us — had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened."
Trump also tied the escalating tensions in Ukraine to long-standing conservative grievances about immigration, saying that the US should employ military force akin to that used by Russia to ensure the US-Mexico border was secure.
"We could use that on our southern border. That's the strongest peace force I've ever seen. There were more army tanks than I've ever seen," Trump said. "They're going to keep peace all right. No, but think of it. Here's a guy who's very savvy. … I know him very well — very, very well."
And when asked whether he was concerned about the US becoming militarily involved in a conflict in Ukraine — which the US has resisted — Trump again brought up the US-Mexico border.
"I'd rather see them send soldiers to our southern border," he said, referring to US troops. "I don't like the idea he's sending a small number of troops."
Trump also said the US had not responded forcefully enough to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
"It's a joke compared to what the other side does. You know, he sends 3,000 troops. I heard this morning, 3,000 troops. What's that going to do except get in trouble?" Trump said. "No, I would like to see our southern border protected, and they are handling Ukraine so badly."
Additionally, Trump said he used to discuss Ukraine with Putin when he was president, adding that the Russian leader "always wanted" to invade the neighboring country.
"I knew that he always 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 that he wanted it. I used to ask him. We used to talk about it at length," Trump said.
Throughout his presidency, Trump's dynamic with Putin was controversial and often led to domestic criticism. At a time when Putin increasingly behaved like an authoritarian leader and US-Russia relations were reaching their worst point since the Cold War, Trump repeatedly praised and defended him.
In perhaps the most infamous example of this, Trump appeared to side with Putin over the US intelligence community on the subject of Russian election interference when the two leaders met in Helsinki in 2018. After facing bipartisan criticism over this in Washington, Trump walked back his statements and said he misspoke. But he's continued to shower Putin with flattery in the years since.
With Russia engaging in what Biden described as the "beginning of an invasion of Ukraine," Trump is once again praising the Russian president, while bashing an American one.
Fiona Hill, who served as the top Russia advisor on the National Security Council under the Trump administration, on Sunday told CNN that Trump paved the way for Putin to invade Ukraine.
Hill, who was a key witness in Trump's first impeachment, said that Trump's self-centered approach to geopolitics sent a message to Putin that Ukraine was a "playground."
"There's no Team America for Trump," Hill said. "Not once did I see him do anything to put America first, not once, not for a single second."
Bill Taylor, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who also testified in Trump's first impeachment, on Sunday told MSNBC's Chuck Todd that he believed Putin was moving against Ukraine now because the Russian leader was "running out of time."
Putin "thought he had more time when President Trump was in office. But he's running out of time," Taylor said.
"Ukraine's moving inevitably, inexorably, to Europe, away from Russia because of all his actions, among other things," he added. "So I think he's running out of time in that way. Also, this is probably the peak strength of his military. His economy is not in good shape, and it's going to go down from here."
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