Trump praises Putin's 'genius' incursion into Ukraine

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Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to send Russian troops into Ukraine to support Russian-backed separatists in the Luhansk and Donetsk provinces. In an appearance on the right-wing talk radio program "the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show," Trump broke his conspicuous silence on the crisis to applaud the Russian dictator.

"This is genius," he said of Putin's decision on Monday to officially recognize the breakaway provinces and authorize the use of Russian military personnel to assist them. "So Putin is now saying it’s independent — a large section of Ukraine. I said, how smart is that? And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. 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. They’re gonna keep peace, all right."

Trump is a long-standing fan of Putin's. In 2013, he wondered on Twitter if the Russian autocrat would attend his Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and whether the two would become "best friends." Putin did not show up. In the following years, Trump repeatedly spoke highly of Putin's strategic acumen, noted the strongman's intention to "re-build the Russian Empire" and defended Putin's habit of killing dissidents and journalists, arguing that the United States does the same thing.

Former President Donald Trump speaks into a microphone.
Former President Donald Trump at a rally in Conroe, Texas, on Jan. 29. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

Putin's recent move is widely considered an assault on Ukraine's sovereignty. As NPR explained, "The announcement is a serious escalation that effectively kills the Minsk accords, which set out a series of military and political steps designed to resolve the status of the two breakaway regions and end the 8-year-old conflict there."

It is unclear exactly what Trump would like the U.S. military to do on the southern U.S. border.

Trump went on to heap more praise on Putin and to claim that Russia would have been less aggressive if he were still in the White House.

"No, but think of it," the former president continued. "Here’s a guy who’s very savvy. I know him very well — very, very well. By the way, this never would have happened with us. Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here’s a guy that says, 'You know, I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent.' He used the word 'independent.' 'And we’re gonna go out, and we’re gonna in, and we’re gonna help keep peace.'”

During the 2016 campaign, Trump publicly encouraged Russia to continue its efforts to hack into the campaign email system of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, as part of the enemy nation's effort to help him win. Once in office, he sided with Russia over U.S. intelligence agencies in accepting Russia's claims not to have been involved in election interference.

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking while seated at a table with a flag behind him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a video address in Moscow on Monday. (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

Trump concluded his comments on Tuesday by asserting that President Biden had not responded to the Russian aggression.

"You gotta say this is pretty savvy," Trump said. "And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad. Very sad."

The United States imposed new economic sanctions on Tuesday.

At the White House on Tuesday, press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Trump's comments.

"We try not to take advice from anyone who praises President Putin and his military strategy," Psaki said, before noting how Trump had sided with Russia when it annexed the Crimean Peninsula, another portion of Ukraine. "There's a bit of a different approach," she said.

In 2019, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a scurrilous investigation of Biden because Trump wanted to weaken his likely 2020 Democratic opponent. When Zelensky refused, the Trump administration withheld congressionally approved aid to Ukraine, which is illegal according to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. That resulted in Trump's first impeachment.

Trump subsequently claimed — without evidence, and at odds with all the evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence officials — that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that had interfered in the 2016 election. In Trump's elaborate conspiracy theory, Ukraine did this in order to frame Russia. And what was Trump's source for these claims, according to one senior government official who spoke to the Washington Post? “Putin told me.”

Correction: Trump appeared on "the Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show."