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.”