WASHINGTON — Three years after trying to extort Ukraine using $391 million in military aid as leverage and two years after being impeached for it, former President Donald Trump claimed on Monday that Russian aggression against the country would never have happened on his watch.
“What’s happening with Russia and Ukraine would never have happened under the Trump Administration. Not even a possibility!” he said in a statement released by his political committee.
The statement made no reference to the scandal that led to Trump’s first of two impeachments, in which he held up delivery of U.S. military aid while demanding that Ukraine’s new president announce an investigation into Joe Biden, then the Democratic primary candidate Trump feared most as a 2020 challenger. The military hardware was released when the scheme became public.
In addition to using U.S. aid intended to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine for his own benefit, Trump made a practice during his presidency of taking Russia’s side in the dispute between the two nations. For several years, he lobbied fellow leaders of the G-7 group of major economic powers to readmit Russia, even though it had been thrown out because of the invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
At the G-7 summit in 2018, Trump told his counterparts that Crimea should belong to Russia because the people there spoke Russian — repeating comments he’d made as a presidential candidate. “But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” he told ABC News in 2016.
In 2019, during a news conference following the G-7 meeting in Biarritz, France, Trump rationalized Russia’s insistence on retaining Crimea by saying it had built a military base there.
“That is where they do their submarine work and that is where they dock large and powerful submarines, but not as powerful as ours and not as large as ours, but they have their submarines,” he said, while also blaming his predecessor, Democratic President Barack Obama, for having been “outsmarted” by Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and take the region by force.
While the U.S. government as a whole did try to punish Russia for its aggression in Ukraine, much of that was due to bipartisan majorities in Congress or career staff at executive branch agencies enacting sanctions.
Other actions were largely symbolic. While the United States did supply Ukraine with anti-tank Javelin missiles, for example, they were provided under the condition that they not be deployed in areas where they actually could have been used against pro-Russian forces.
Russian ruler Vladimir Putin, whom Trump repeatedly praised both before and after he took office, has amassed more than 100,000 troops along his border with Ukraine. Biden, now the U.S. president, has warned Putin that another invasion would be met with severe consequences, including harsh new economic sanctions. He has also been considering redeploying thousands of U.S. troops to Eastern Europe.
In 2016, Trump accepted Putin’s help to win the U.S. presidency by using documents that Russian spies stole from the Democratic Party and the campaign of his opponent, Hillary Clinton, even though he had been informed by U.S. intelligence officials that Russian spies had stolen them.
Four years later, despite losing the 2020 election by 7 million popular votes and by 306-232 in the Electoral College, Trump became the first U.S. president in more than two centuries to refuse to hand over power peacefully. His incitement of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol – his last-ditch attempt to remain in office ― killed five, including one police officer, injured another 140 officers, and was followed by four police suicides. It resulted in his second impeachment just a week before he left office.
The former National Security Council staffer who testified against Trump during his first impeachment said Monday that Trump’s incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol probably led to Putin’s renewed aggression.
“What’s happening in Ukraine is the direct result of Trump’s attack on democracy. Absent January 6th, Putin would likely not be preparing to launch the largest offensive in Europe since WWII,” said Alexander Vindman. “Putin’s sense of American weakness emanates from Trump-incited hyper polarization. Trump’s fondness for Putin infected the far right media echo chamber.”
Despite Trump’s two impeachments and his literal attempt to overthrow American democracy, he remains the dominant figure in the Republican Party and is openly speaking about running for the presidency again in 2024.