Mar 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Trump says he thought Putin "was negotiating" before invading Ukraine

Photo of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shaking hands on a stage in front of people

Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-President Trump hold a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. Photo: Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Former President Trump told the Washington Examiner in an interview that he is "surprised" Russian President Vladimir Putin followed through on his threat to invade Ukraine.

Why it matters: Trump, who maintained a close working relationship with Putin during his presidency, has condemned the invasion as a "crime against humanity" but called Putin "very savvy" for recognizing two breakaway "republics" in eastern Ukraine as independent two days before Russian forces launched an attack on the entire country.

  • He has taken heat from both Democrats and Republicans for declining to criticize Putin directly.

What he's saying: "I’m surprised," he told the Examiner on Tuesday. "I thought he was negotiating when he sent his troops to the border. I thought he was negotiating."

  • "I thought it was a tough way to negotiate but a smart way to negotiate," Trump continued.
  • "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," he 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."
  • Trump said that he gets a "bad rap" on his relationship with Putin. "I’ve been very, very tough on Putin," he said. "At the same time, I got along with him very well. But I got along with most [world leaders] very well."

Worth noting: Former national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview earlier this month that it's inaccurate to say Trump's behavior "deterred the Russians."

  • "In almost every case" Trump would complain that the U.S. was "being too hard" on Russia, Bolton said.
  • Trump has also faced accusations of withholding funding for Ukraine's military in order to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating the Biden family. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) says the move directly hurt Ukraine's ability to defend itself now.

Go deeper: The latest on the Russia-Ukraine crisis

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