Russian President Vladimir Putin has escalated tensions with the West for much of the last decade — annexing Crimea, meddling in US elections, poisoning a former spy on British soil, and more. At almost every turn, former President Donald Trump echoed the Kremlin’s messages, justifying Russian aggression, and sometimes even openly supporting it.
“One of the key reasons Putin probably felt comfortable launching an invasion of Ukraine was the degree to which the West has been weakened and destabilized, undermined democracy and sowed political divisions in the five years since he attacked our elections in 2016″. said Garrett Graff, a historian and journalist specializing in national security and the Cold War.
Here are four things to remember about Trump, Ukraine and Putin.
Trump sided with Russia when the conflict began
The 2014 People’s Revolution toppled the pro-Russian regime in Kyiv, led by President Viktor Yanukovych, and replaced it with a pro-Western government. Russian troops soon invaded the Ukrainian territory of Crimea, provoking an armed conflict that escalated this year.
Within weeks Trump praised Putin
for how he handled the takeover of Crimea and predicted that “the rest of Ukraine will fall … pretty quickly.” Echoing Kremlin propaganda, Trump said in TV interview
that the Crimeans “would rather be with Russia”, a position he also pushed
alone. One of his 2016 campaign aides falsely stated that “Russia has not taken over Crimea.”
“Trump said that Crimea is Russian because people speak Russian,” said Elena Petukhova of the Kiev-based business intelligence firm Molfar, calling it a “completely pro-Kremlin” point of view. “According to this logic, the entire territory of the United States should belong to Great Britain.”
When pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine shot down a commercial airliner in 2014, killing 298 people, Trump raised doubts about Russian involvement. He accepted Putin’s denials, even after US and European officials publicly concluded that Russia was involved.
Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who advised Yanukovych in Ukraine for a decade, collaborated with a Russian spy in 2016 on secret plan
For Trump to help Russia control eastern Ukraine, says Special Counsel Robert Mueller. report
. The proposal called for Yanukovych to return to lead Russian puppet state
in the east of Ukraine.
This pro-Russian rhetoric has not always translated into Trump White House politics. For example, his administration has said the sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns Crimea. But this rhetoric gave Putin unexpected support in DC and created tension in NATO.
Trump’s mixed track record for arming Ukraine
President Joe Biden has dramatically increased the flow of weapons to Ukraine, including anti-tank missiles, anti-aircraft systems, drones, rifles and other weapons. It is important to note that it was Trump who first sent lethal aid, in contrast to the Obama administration, which refused to send offensive weapons to Ukraine in the early stages of the fighting in eastern Donbas.
But Trump has a mixed record on the subject. His position as a candidate was vague at best. Trump campaign aides intervened during the 2016 GOP National Convention to block wording of the GOP platform that called for the US to send deadly weapons to Ukraine.
And in 2019, Trump is infamous for denying almost $400 million in military aid in his attempt to get Zelensky to announce bogus corruption investigations into Biden and his family’s business dealings. The weapons in the stalled aid package included Javelin missiles
which has has become an essential part
surprisingly reliable defense of Ukraine from Russian tanks.
This led to Trump’s first impeachment, but the Republican-led Senate acquitted him. Some Republicans who opposed his impeachment are now calling on Biden to send more weapons.
“The Republican Party is the party of the Russian hawks. For half a century, one of their central organizing principles was to counter the Soviet threat,” Graff said, adding that Trump turned that story around and made some Republicans soften on Putin. “But in this last month, many Republicans who have become inconsiderate of Russia have returned to their natural position when Russia hawks.
Trump Leads Anti-Ukrainian Smear Campaign
Throughout his presidency, Trump has made a number of false claims about Ukraine, publicly and privately. He rarely missed an opportunity to criticize the country. A widely respected diplomat testified to Congress that Trump considered “Ukraine to be a corrupt country full of terrible people.”
Trump’s biggest lie was about the 2016 election. He rejected the fact that Russia intervened to help him win. Instead, he falsely claimed that Ukraine intervened and that he was a victim. This lie, which he repeated dozens of times, was a double boon for the Kremlin: They downplayed Russia’s brazen attack on American democracy while vilifying Ukraine.
These views quickly became the party line for GOP lawmakers and conservative pundits, though leading Russia pundits such as Fiona Hill publicly warned that it was all Russian propaganda.
It was a break from decades of lukewarm U.S. policy towards Ukraine, especially when it came to leaders like Zelenskiy who were trying to reorient the country towards the West. Former President George W. Bush glorified the Ukrainian people
in 2004 for protesting election fraud, and Obama celebrated the 2014 revolution
who toppled the pro-Kremlin government in Kyiv.
“When Trump muddies the waters by praising Putin, or discredits Zelensky and spreads lies about Ukraine, it has real consequences for how this crisis plays out,” said Jordan Gans-Morse, a professor at Northwestern University who was a Fulbright Scholar. in Ukraine. “It shapes public opinion in a way that ties Biden’s hands when he’s the de facto wartime president.”
Trump repeatedly undermined Zelensky
recently wrote about the “endless heroism” of Zelensky and Time magazine
said he “united the world”. But the myth of Zelensky as a Churchill-like figure is a new development.
Less than three years ago, Zelensky was a young politician who was used by Trump and his henchmen in a clumsy attempt to vilify candidate Biden. U.S.-Ukrainian relations have been sidelined and replaced by Trump’s personal and political needs.
Zelenskiy’s top priorities were additional US arms shipments and a meeting with Trump at the White House. This goal was shared by experienced American diplomats in Kyiv. But they were smeared and sidelined — and replaced by a group of Trump supporters who made their demands clear: Zelensky could only get these things if he announced that Ukraine was investigating Biden for corruption.
This strength on the part of the Trump team forced Zelensky, in his first months in office, to develop a surprisingly hostile relationship with the United States, the supposed main ally in his fight against Russia.
“Zelenskiy had more than enough to do when he came to power,” Hans-Morse said. “The country has already been at war with Russia. He is a political rookie. And then, on top of that, the most powerful man in the world was actually extorting him, and he had to spend time and effort to deal with it. There was a full impact, but it definitely tested Zelensky.”