Trump has been on Putin’s side in Ukraine’s long fight against Russian aggression
Americans rarely pay much attention to international events. Busy lives leave little time for distant events with unknown protagonists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has become a rare exception, his butchery in plain sight via saturation coverage for anyone with a video screen. But Americans may not yet have grasped this disturbing reality: the US president who left office just 14 months ago has sided with the butcher.
It’s true: in the struggle that now unites the free world against the lawless aggression of an autocrat, the last ex-American president sided with the autocrat.
It’s not just that Donald Trump recently hailed the “genius” of Putin’s strike on Ukraine. Since the start of his political career, Trump has backed Putin in a way directly related to the Russian quest to subjugate that country.
For years, relations between Russia and the famous real estate manager have been lubricated by money. There was the development funding that Trump’s sons bragged about, the Palm Beach mansion he sold to a Russian oligarch for $95 million four years after buying it for $41 million, the Manhattan Project in association with a Russian émigré linked to the mafia.
He sought to place a Trump tower in Moscow even as he ran for president. In 2013, when he held a beauty pageant there, Trump asked on Twitter, “Will (Putin) become my new best friend?”
Putin took Crimea from Ukraine the following year. Protests in Kiev had forced a Kremlin ally out of the presidency. The deposed president, who fled to Russia, had been advised by an American political consultant. This consultant, Paul Manafort, then became Trump’s campaign manager in 2016.
Candidate Trump spoke indulgently about Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. He considered lifting the sanctions to ease relations with Putin.
“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they are,” Trump told ABC News in July 2016. That had been the justification for the invasion by Putin.
President Trump has sought to undo a punishment meted out to Putin by proposing that Russia join the G7, an organization of the world’s major industrial economies. Other members, who had partnered with the United States to expel Russia during Barack Obama’s presidency, refused to follow them.
His administration implemented new sanctions against Russia at the insistence of national security officials and Congress. Trump himself opposed it.
“In almost every case, the sanctions were imposed because Trump complained about it and said we were too tough,” his former national security adviser John Bolton recently told Newsmax.
Russia threatened Ukraine throughout Trump’s tenure. He strengthened Putin’s hand in several ways.
Trump has questioned the United States’ decades-long commitment to defending European partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Aides feared he would try to pull out of NATO if he won a second term.
He fomented discord at home, advancing Putin’s goal of undermining American resolve. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who is not trying to unite the American people,” his former Secretary of Defense James Mattis said in 2020.
Trump shielded Russia from opprobrium. Echoing Russian propaganda, he led fellow Republicans to smear Ukraine by falsely suggesting that Kiev rather than Moscow interfered in the 2016 US presidential election.
“This is a fictitious narrative that was perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Fiona Hill, who had led Russian policy on Trump’s National Security Council, said during a briefing. a 2019 congressional impeachment inquiry.
Republicans protecting Trump have called the impeachment a Democratic partisanship. But it goes back to Trump’s alignment with Russia against its vulnerable neighbor.
Congress had voted to provide Ukraine with nearly $400 million in military aid. Trump delayed his shipment.
“I would like you to do us a favor,” Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in their infamous July 2019 phone call.
The favor was for Zelensky to smear his presidential rival Joe Biden by investigating him and his son, Hunter. Zelensky never complied.
Things didn’t work out the way Trump or Putin wanted.
Trump lost his re-election bid. Biden, who defeated him, now leads the global effort to stop Putin’s aggression.
Instead of dividing under military and economic pressure, NATO and the European Union have united in support of Ukraine. In the United States, the two political parties that normally brawl have united in condemning Russian savagery.
Republican senators who voted to acquit Trump of those impeachment charges cheered as Biden excoriated the Russian leader during last week’s State of the Union address. A Republican-sponsored “Putin Accountability Act” in Congress seeks to punish, among others, the Russian oligarch who more than doubled Trump’s money on this Palm Beach mansion.
Even Trump has changed his tune. A week after praising Putin’s strategic acumen, he denounced Russia’s attack on Ukraine as “a holocaust”.
The former president remains the main candidate for the Republican Party’s nomination in 2024. But the longer the bloodshed in Ukraine continues, the greater Putin’s responsibility will become.
Trump and his entourage had wanted the controversy to die down. His former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who listened to the infamous Trump-Zelensky call, chastised a reporter who asked about Ukraine a few months later.
“Do you think Americans care about Ukraine?” Pompeo gave a shout out to Mary Louise Kelly of National Public Radio.
Maybe they didn’t care then. Unfortunately for Trump, they care now.