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Former President Donald Trump made some keen observations about Russian President Vladimir Putin following the latter’s invasion of Ukraine late last month in an interview published Tuesday.
Trump told the Washington Examiner that he was “surprised” Putin actually ordered the invasion, noting that it appears to him that Putin has “changed” since he left office.
“I’m surprised — I’m surprised. I thought he was negotiating when he sent his troops to the border. I thought he was negotiating,” Trump told the outlet via phone from his Mar-a-Lago resort home in Florida. “I thought it was a tough way to negotiate but a smart way to negotiate.”
“I figured he was going to make a good deal like everybody else does with the United States and the other people they tend to deal with — you know, like every trade deal. We’ve never made a good trade deal until I came along,” Trump added. “And then he went in — and I think he’s changed. I think he’s changed. It’s a very sad thing for the world. He’s very much changed.”
The Examiner continued:
Russia initiated an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 after months of saber-rattling by Putin. The war sparked intense backlash in the West and unified NATO countries. The United States and European nations responded with severe diplomatic and economic sanctions while funneling military aid to Ukraine to help Kyiv resist Russian aggression. On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is scheduled to deliver a virtual address to a joint session of Congress.
President Joe Biden has called Putin a “tyrant.” Top Republicans, including former Vice President Mike Pence and Robert C. O’Brien, Trump’s former White House national security adviser, harshly denounced the Russian president and declared no quarter in the Republican Party for Putin sympathizers. Their comments came after Trump initially declined to criticize Putin personally, as was his habit as president, preferring instead to compliment him for his skills as a geopolitical strategist and negotiator.
During the interview, Trump also responded with indignation to claims by Democrats and even some Republicans who are not “Never Trumpers” that he has muted his criticism of Putin because he allegedly has a soft spot for the Russian leader.
“I’ve been very, very tough on Putin. I get a bad rap on that,” Trump said, repeating his earlier claims that Putin would never have invaded Ukraine if he were still in office out of fear of how Trump would respond. “At the same time, I got along with him very well. But I got along with most [world leaders] very well.”
Trump’s first impeachment was related to allegations that he attempted to link military support for Ukraine with a pledge by that country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to dredge up damaging information on Joe and Hunter Biden ahead of the 2020 presidential election cycle. Trump has always vehemently denied the allegation. That said, even Republicans who have expressed angst over his Putin rhetoric nevertheless praised his Russia policies.
For instance, in a break from his predecessor, President Obama, Trump approved sending lethal military assistance to Ukraine in a bid to help the country ramp up defenses against Russia. Trump also opposed the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany fearing that Putin could use it to not only fund his military but also as a means of neutering European responses to his plans in Ukraine and elsewhere on NATO’s periphery. Biden, by comparison, approved the pipeline, though Germany has since indefinitely delayed the project following the invasion.
“When you think of it, who was tougher on Russia than me?” Trump asked.
“I got billions and billions of dollars” for NATO, he told the outlet. “Now, all that money is going against Russia, so I did that. I closed the pipeline. You know, the pipeline was closed, and Biden opened it. Plus, I did the biggest sanctions anybody’s ever done on Russia.”
“I’ve been very critical of Putin from the standpoint of the pipeline, from the standpoint of raising billions and billions of dollars in NATO to protect, primarily, Europe against Russia,” Trump said. “Nobody else did that.”