Donald Trump has doubled down on claims that Russian President Vladimir Putin “would have never” launched a war on Ukraine if the four-times indicted former American president was still in power.
Mr Trump’s remarks came during his appearance on Fox Businnes’Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show aired on Friday. He went on to make bizarre comments about his relationship with Putin.
“Putin would’ve never gotten into Ukraine, but that’s just on my relationship with him. My personality over his,” Mr Trump said. “I was the apple of his eye and I would say, ‘Don’t ever do it.’ It was tough stuff there but he would have never done it.”
Mr Trump’s comments have sparked scrutiny, with fellow GOP presidential candidate Chris Christie decrying the ex-presidennt’s self-admitted fondness for the Russian dictator. Mr Christie, who met with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine earlier this month, also warned about the danger of American politicians supporting anti-Democratic figures.
“We have folks in this race who have called Vladimir Putin brilliant, a great leader,” Mr Christie told radio host Erick Erickson on Saturday, according to Politico. “Just yesterday, Donald Trump called him that he was the apple of Putin’s eye. I have to tell you the truth: I don’t want to be the apple of Vladimir Putin’s eye.”
Former speechwriter for George W Bush and current editor at The Atlantic David Frum called Mr Trump “Putin’s most useful tool,” while foreign policy commentator David J Rothkopf pointed out Russia was fighting in Ukraine during Mr Trump’s presidency.
“Reminder: Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014. His army was fighting there every minute Trump was president. Not only did Trump never do anything to stop it, he curried favor with Putin, he spouted Kremlin propaganda & he withheld aid to Ukraine while trying to blackmail its president,” Mr Rothkopf tweeted.
Referring to Mr Trump’s latest comments on Putin, Mr Rothkopf wrote: “It’s almost like Trump is bragging that he has won the endorsement of the worlds most notorious war criminal. Actually, it’s exactly like that. It is that.”
Retired US general Mark Hertling replied: “I wonder how many evangelicals & Trump supporters want to be known as admiring the same guy Putin – who orders murders, rapes, and abduction of children – sees as ‘the apple of his eye.’”
US officials have told The New York Times that the number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war in Ukraine began in February 2022 is nearing half a million. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimates that nearly 9,500 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and more than 16,800 others have been injured.
Its website states: “OHCHR believes that the actual figures are considerably higher, as the receipt of information from some locations where intense hostilities have been going on has been delayed and many reports are still pending corroboration. This concerns, for example, Mariupol (Donetsk region), Lysychansk, Popasna, and Sievierodonetsk (Luhansk region), where there are allegations of numerous civilian casualties.”
Fighting has intensified in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks as Ukrainian troops mount a counteroffensive against Russian troops. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia hosted a summit where senior officials from 40 countries, including the US, China and India, discussed potential peace talks to end the war. However, Russia did not attend the conference.
Ukraine sought agreement on principles for a potential deal in the future and support from countries that have not taken sides on the 18-month ongoing conflict, Reuters reports.
The comments come amid claims by Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul that Mr Putin may be waiting on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election before considering a potential peace deal with Kyiv.
“Obviously, Putin is waiting for the outcome of the U.S. 2024 presidential election,” Mr McFaul, who served under President Obama, wrote in a Substack article published on Friday. “If Trump is reelected, Putin has reason to believe that he could strike a much better deal on Ukraine. So why would he enter negotiations now?”
Several leading Republican candidates have indicate they would be willing to do a deal with Russia to end the war, with some – such as entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy – explicitly saying they would seek to hand occupied Ukrainian territory to the Russians.
Mr Trump and 18 of his allies were indicted on Monday for allegedly running a criminal enterprise to try to thwart the 2020 presidential election. He is also the defendant in three other ongoing criminal proceedings.
The former president’s relationship with Russia loomed over his presidency. The Mueller Inquiry found that his 2016 campaign welcomed help from the Kremlin and suggested Mr Trump may have committed obstruction of justice 11 times in trying to shut down the investigation. In 2019 Mr Trump was impeached for the first time after it emerged he had privately tried to condition military aid to Ukraine – to defend itself against Russian aggression – on President Zelensky announcing an investigation into the Biden family.
Several Trump aides and officials fell foul of revelations they had had inappropriate contacts with Russian officials, including former attorney general Jeff Sessions, former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Donald Trump Jr was revealed to have had a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer at Trump Tower before the 2016 election, but insisted he was conducting opposition research on his father’s opponent, Hillary Clinton.
In 2018 Mr Trump stunned onlookers at a joint press conference with Mr Putin in Helsinki when he publicly sided with the Russian president and against US intelligence agencies by saying he accepted that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election.