Americans rarely pay much attention to international events. Busy lives leave little time for distant events with unfamiliar protagonists.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has become a rare exception, its butchery in plain view via saturation coverage for anyone with a video screen. But Americans may not yet have absorbed this disturbing reality: The American president who left office just 14 months ago sided with the butcher.
That’s right: In the struggle now uniting the free world against an autocrat’s lawless aggression, America’s most recent ex-President sided with the autocrat.
It’s not just that Donald Trump recently hailed the “genius” of Putin’s strike against Ukraine. Since his political career began, Trump has backed Putin in ways connected directly to the Russian’s quest to subjugate that country.
For years, relations between Russia and the celebrity real estate executive were lubricated by money. There was the development financing Trump’s sons boasted 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 mob-linked Russian émigré.
He sought to place a Trump Tower in Moscow even as he ran for president. In 2013, when he staged a beauty pageant there, Trump asked on Twitter: “Will (Putin) become my new best friend?”
Putin seized Crimea from Ukraine the following year. Protests in Kyiv had forced a Kremlin ally to quit the presidency. The ousted president, who fled to Russia, had been advised by an American political consultant. That consultant, Paul Manafort, subsequently became Trump’s 2016 campaign manager.
Candidate Trump spoke forgivingly about Russia’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. He mused about lifting sanctions to smooth relations with Putin.
“The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump told ABC News in July 2016. That had been Putin’s justification for the invasion.
President Trump sought to undo one punishment imposed on Putin by proposing that Russia rejoin the G7, an organization of the world’s major industrial economies. Other members, who had teamed with the US to kick Russia out during Barack Obama’s presidency, declined to go along.
His administration implemented some new sanctions on Russia at the insistence of national security officials and Congress. Trump himself objected.
“In almost every case, the sanctions were imposed with Trump complaining about it and saying we were being too hard,” his former national security adviser John Bolton said on Newsmax recently.
Russia menaced Ukraine throughout Trump’s term. He strengthened Putin’s hand in several ways.