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Donald Trump sides with Vladimir Putin (Analysis)

(CNN) — It took only 24 hours for Donald Trump to describe the dismemberment of the independent, democratic and sovereign Ukraine of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the act of a “genius”.

The former president often falsely accuses his enemies of treason, but his own breakneck drive to side with a foreign leader who is proving to be an enemy of the United States and the West is shocking even by Trump’s self-serving standards.

As US President Joe Biden resumes the legendary presidential role of leading the free world, the predecessor who wants to succeed him shows Putin that impunity, coddling of dictators and hero worship will return if he wins back the White House. Trump’s comments on a conservative radio show Tuesday will not only find a warm welcome in the Kremlin. They will also worry allies who stand with the United States against Russia who fear for the future of NATO if Trump returns.

How far would the crisis between Russia and Ukraine go? 1:39

Trump also sent an unequivocal message to Republicans, who are already playing into Putin’s hands by branding the current president as weak, that siding with a US enemy is the path to affection for the former president before primaries heading into this year’s midterm elections.

It didn’t take long for Trump to make sure Putin knew he approved of his troop movement in parts of eastern Ukraine, knowing his comments would be picked up and broadcast around the world.

“I went yesterday and there was a TV screen and I said, ‘This is great.’ Putin declares a large part of the Ukraine, of Ukraine, Putin declares it independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump said in an interview on “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show”.

The former president added: “So Putin now says, ‘It’s independent,’ a big part of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacemaker. That’s the strongest peacekeeping force,” Trump said. “We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peacekeeper I’ve ever seen… Here’s a guy who’s very smart… I know him very well. Very very good”.

Trump was referring to Putin’s statement on Monday that he would consider independent two rogue regions in eastern Ukraine, where he has been fomenting separatism, and his order to send in Russian troops, which Putin misleadingly called “police maintenance” forces. peace”, to reinforce the enclaves. The move was a flagrant violation of international law, resonated with the tyrannical territorial aggrandizement of the 1930s that led to World War II and, as Biden said Tuesday, amounted to “the beginning of a Russian invasion.”

In effect, the former president is trying to undermine US foreign policy while the current president is trying to stop a war that could kill thousands and threaten post-Cold War peace.

But it’s no surprise that Trump would praise anything Putin does, given his kowtowing to the Russian leader while in office. Given that he tried to stage a coup that would have destroyed American democracy, it is also not surprising that he is not worried about the loss of Ukraine’s freedom. Trump once stood by Putin at a Helsinki summit and ripped apart US intelligence agencies that said Moscow had interfered in the 2016 election to help him. And Trump himself corrupted Ukrainian democracy, trying to extort President Volodymyr Zelensky into announcing an investigation into his then-Democratic rival Biden, an abuse of power that earned him the first of two historic impeachments of him.

Beyond the average ex-president controversy

In Tuesday’s hierarchy of vital news, the former president’s boastful ramblings pale in importance to the alarming events in Eastern Europe. But his comments were more than the normal carnival barking and prioritizing of personal obsessions over national interests that Trump is known for.

No other living former president would dream of, let alone get away with, hyping up a Russian leader who could soon be waging the biggest war in Europe since World War II after declaring on Monday that Ukraine has no right to exist.

But Trump’s status as the likely front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, and the possibility that he could return to power, takes his latest boast about Putin’s gangsterism to a new level. He is sending the promise of future favors and approval of Putin’s illegal land seizures, suggesting he would do little to reverse them as president.

They simulate an evacuation in a school in Ukraine before Russian movements 0:45

Trump’s latest idolization of Putin is likely to widen the growing divide in the GOP between traditional hawks, who have at times praised Biden for taking on the Russian leader, and pro-Trump lawmakers and conservative stars of the Republican Party. the media like Tucker Carlson, who have sided with Putin.

Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a possible future Republican presidential candidate, also recently praised Putin, a scourge of democracy, as a “very talented” and gifted statesman. “He was a KGB agent for God’s sake. He knows how to use power. We should respect that,” Pompeo told Fox in January.

The fact that this is coming from leading members of former President Ronald Reagan’s party, who told then Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in divided Berlin and was credited with victory in the Cold War, represents a striking transformation. And it shows how far the Republican Party has strayed from its respect for America’s core democratic values ​​in its pursuit of power.

Some Republicans have been more subtle in their criticism of Biden. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has backed the president’s effort to rally Western allies behind the US to take on Putin and favors strong sanctions to punish the Russian leader. But on Tuesday, not for the first time, the Kentucky Republican showed he was ready to play the game at both ends, accusing Biden of causing the crisis out of weakness.

“I don’t think Vladimir Putin would have a couple of hundred thousand troops on the border with Ukraine if we hadn’t hastily withdrawn from Afghanistan last August,” McConnell said in Lexington on Tuesday. “The impression we’ve left, first by leaving Afghanistan, is that the United States is not interested in playing as big a leadership role as it used to.”

McConnell is tapping into a sentiment shared by many Americans from both parties that last year’s US evacuation from Afghanistan was chaotic and poorly planned and damaged perceptions of Biden’s leadership abroad. At the same time, however, Biden’s leadership in this crisis has been more reliable. For example, he has brought NATO members closer than they have been in many years.

The idea that Biden is weak against Putin is sure to play out in the midterm campaign throughout the year. But for Republicans to bring such a charge after their complicity with Trump’s obsequious attitude toward Putin is hypocritical and absurd. House Republican leadership, which is in Trump’s pocket, accused Biden of “appeasement” on Tuesday, the same day its de facto leader described Putin as a “genius.”

Trump’s repeated adulation of Putin

While the last administration often took a strong stance against Russia, it was repeatedly undermined by Trump’s effusive admiration for Putin in public and his habit of making impulsive decisions that played into Russia’s foreign policy goals, including withdrawing USA from northern Syria.

Trump praised Putin in Tuesday’s interview as a “tough guy” who loves his country and insisted that he had stopped Putin from invading Ukraine under his rule.

“I knew 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 he wanted it,” the former president said. Trump actually suggested during his 2016 campaign that Russia could keep Crimea, another Ukrainian territory that Putin had annexed in 2014. “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said, repeating the Kremlin speech.

The idea that Trump’s toughness prevented Putin from invading Ukraine is undermined not only by his friendly exchanges with a leader who jailed opponents and presides over a country where journalists are often killed.

5 key moments of the dispute between Russia and Ukraine 0:46

One of the goals of Putin’s pressure on Ukraine, as he has repeatedly made clear, is to push NATO back to its borders at the end of the Cold War and split the Western alliance. With Trump in power, the Russian leader need not worry about the latter goal, as his White House counterpart frequently berated transatlantic allies and befriended America’s enemies.

And it’s not as if Putin gave up on America when Trump was in power. Cyberattacks emanating from Russian soil also took place during the Trump presidency, including Operation SolarWinds that breached US federal agencies. Supposed respect for the US did not stop Russian agents from using a biological weapon in British soil to poison a deserter, according to the UK government.

There are multiple documented cases of Trump being soft on Putin. And the GOP’s criticism of Biden for failing to stand up to Putin conveniently forgets about Trump’s notorious Helsinki press conference, not to mention the multiple odd contacts between his 2016 campaign team and Russian outsiders.

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