Rand Paul echoes Putin's talking points on Ukraine while arguing with Blinken over Russia's motives for invading

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  • Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday largely blamed NATO for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • In a fierce exchange with Blinken, he said Russia attacked because Ukraine was "part of Russia...part of the Soviet Union."

  • "That does not give Russia the right to attack them," Blinken said.

Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday received fierce pushback from Secretary of State Antony Blinken after the Kentucky Republican said that Ukraine was "part of Russia" during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.

Paul said there was "no justification" for Russian President Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, but added "it does not follow that there's no explanation for the invasion." The GOP senator cited Russia's qualms with Kyiv's NATO ambitions, which have not advanced in 14 years, and accused the Biden administration of "beating the drums to admit Ukraine" to the alliance.

Blinken rejected Paul's suggestion that the administration was "agitating" for Ukraine's NATO membership, stating that the US was "standing up" for the alliance's open door policy and "a basic principle that one country can't dictate to another the choices it makes about with whom it allies."

Paul then said if Ukraine had been part of NATO when Russia invaded then "US soldiers would be fighting in Ukraine" right now. Blinken fired back, making the case that NATO membership has protected countries from Russian aggression and emphasizing that countries have a right to self-determination.

"If you look at the countries that Russia has attacked over the last years...these were countries that were not part of NATO. It has not attacked NATO countries," the top US diplomat said.

"You could also argue the countries they've attacked were part of Russia...part of the Soviet Union," Paul responded.

"That does not give Russia the right to attack them," Blinken said.

The territory that's part of modern Ukraine has fallen under the control of various empires over the centuries, including Russia and the Soviet Union. But Ukraine overwhelmingly voted to leave the Soviet Union in 1991. That said, Ukraine and Russia share a close history, and Moscow has often had a major sway over Ukrainian politics — including after the Cold War. In more recent years, Kyiv has increasingly shifted toward the West, enraging the Kremlin.

And at the end of the day, Blinken said Russia's invasion was "never about Ukraine being potentially part of NATO and it was always about [Putin's] belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign, independent country." Blinken also said that the US sought to engage with Russia over its security concerns in the region, including Ukraine's potential NATO membership, before the invasion.

Though Paul said there was no justifying Russia's invasion of Ukraine, he also echoed Putin's talking points in Tuesday's Senate hearing.

Russia has for years complained of NATO's eastward expansion, and warned the alliance against admitting Ukraine or Georgia. As Russia amassed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine's border in the lead-up to the unprovoked invasion in late February, it repeatedly blamed NATO for the tensions. Though Ukraine is not part of NATO and hasn't even been placed on the formal path to join the alliance, Putin accused the West of ignoring his red lines when it came to Russia's security.

In reality, Putin has been the primary catalyst for the conflict in Ukraine. During his roughly two decades in power, he has habitually exhibited aggression toward Kyiv. Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, annexing Crimea in the process, and starting that year began supporting rebels in a war against Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbas region.

Paul's reference to Ukraine as "part of" Russia or the Soviet Union as he argued with Blinken on Tuesday was also strikingly similar to lines from a speech Putin delivered the week he ordered the invasion. "Modern Ukraine was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik, Communist Russia," Putin said in February.

Putin has repeatedly suggested that Ukraine is not a real country, and has called Ukrainians and Russians "one people." Experts say that Putin believes Ukraine should be under Russian control, and that he will never "give up" on this goal.

And despite Paul zeroing in on US support for Ukraine joining NATO as the motive for the war, Russia has offered a series of varying and outlandish explanations for why it invaded.

Putin in late February said Russia was launching the so-called "special operation" in Ukraine to de-Nazify it, baselessly accusing the Ukrainian government of genocide against Russian speakers. The Russian leader described Ukraine's government as a "band of neo-Nazis and drug addicts." Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost family during the Holocaust, underscoring how far-fetched Putin's assertions were. More recently, Putin said that Russia had "no choice" but to attack Ukraine.

Kelsey Cooper, a spokesperson for Paul, in a statement provided to Insider said, "While there is no justification for Putin's war on Ukraine, there is an explanation for the invasion, which was the point Dr. Paul was making. Any other interpretation of the exchange is a blatant attempt to misinform."

"As Dr. Paul has expressed publicly many times before, he has a great deal of sympathy for Ukraine, and clearly stated his support for them in his testimony today, saying: 'I'm proud of how well the Ukrainians have fought, I'm supportive of their cause,'" Cooper added.

Paul was widely criticized over his remarks on Tuesday, including by Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois.

"Rand Paul truly is ridiculous," Kinzinger said in a tweet.

Retired Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who worked as a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council under the Trump administration and testified to Congress during former President Donald Trump's first impeachment, in a tweet described Paul's exchange with Blinken as "stunning."

"Paul implies that Russia is justified in attacking Ukraine because, UKR was once part of the USSR. By that logic Britain is justified in attacking the U.S. and colonial powers their former holdings. What century does he live in?" Vindman said.

Read the original article on Business Insider