Former President Donald Trump has called Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “disaster,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin is “smart,” and criticized the effectiveness of economic sanctions.
During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference Saturday, Trump said Russia’s attack on Ukraine was “appalling” and blamed American weakness for the attack.
“It’s an outrage, and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur,” he said.
Trump also praised Putin, who he previously called a “genius” for declaring portions of Ukraine independent before the invasion.
“The problem is not that Putin is smart, which of course he’s smart, but the real problem is our leaders are dumb,” Trump said.
Trump’s political attacks on President Joe Biden might resonate with 75% of Republicans who disapprove of his handling of the situation in Ukraine, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll. But Trump’s approach towards Russia’s leader has been criticized from within his own party.
“How can anyone with any understanding of the world call Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine ‘genius’ and ‘very savvy’ as we watch him unite the rest of the world against Russia in nearly an instant?” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, tweeted Monday. “No walking that back. History is watching.”
How can anyone with any understanding of the world call Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine “genius” and “very savvy” as we watch him unite the rest of the world against Russia in nearly an instant?— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) February 28, 2022
During his remarks, Trump called sanctions “a pretty weak statement.”
“You mean I can take over a whole country and they’re going to sanction me?” he said, referencing Putin.
The U.S., the European Union, the U.K. and their allies have imposed crippling sanctions on Russia since the invasion, and the Russian ruble is now worth less than one U.S. cent. In the U.S., sanctions have bipartisan support, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying last week that every available sanction should be deployed.
Trump falsely claimed in a statement Monday that the election was stolen and if it wasn’t, Russia would not have attacked Ukraine.
Trump’s stance on Russia has long been under a microscope. His campaign removed a section in the Republican Party platform about giving weapons to Ukraine in 2016, and as president, he asked that Russia be allowed to rejoin the Group of Seven, which it was kicked out of after taking Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. Trump has floated the idea of recognizing Crimea as Russian territory, and in 2019, the Trump administration froze nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine, leading to his first impeachment.
Republican attitudes towards Russia’s leader changed while Trump was in office. Between 2015 and 2017, the percentage of Republicans with a favorable view of Putin rose from 12% to 32%, suggesting the beginnings of a shift away from the GOP’s traditional Reagan-to-Romney stance toward Moscow.
Putin’s invasion has lost him fans on the American right, though. Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a Russia defender whose recent segment was aired on Russian state television, has changed his tone, saying last week the war was Putin’s responsibility and a tragedy.