A natural question that anyone sentient during the Trump administration and observant of the relationship, both Trump’s servile relationship with Putin, and his antipathy toward NATO (or any other ally for that matter), naturally asks; “Why did Putin wait until Trump lost to invade Ukraine?”
It seems as though it would have been perfect to move during the Trump administration, or at least it seems that way at first glance. Some of us that are not experts in international diplomacy can think of some reasons, but fortunately, Politico has an article out this morning with reasons set out by someone who is an expert, Jessica Pisano, is an associate professor at the New School in New York on Russian and Euroasian studies.
Needless to say, it is not because Trump had been so tough on Russia and was a stronger leader, as the Right has thrown out as the rationale of late while independents and those on the left suppress laughter.
No. Putin didn’t invade for reasons that some of us have already put forth. Why would Putin want to upset the apple cart when he already had all that he wanted? Far from a Trump administration making it easier to invade Ukraine, the Trump administration was so Russo-aligned that Russia didn’t need to invade Ukraine to get all that it wants now. Putin is invading Ukraine for three reasons (and you’ll note that he’s miscalculated on at least two); One, he wanted to weaken NATO. Two, Putin wanted to weaken and undermine Ukrainian leadership (Remember, Trump already terminated U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch) who was noted for her fearless anti-corruption stance). Three, Putin wants to weaken democracy around the world, see Trump on January 6th and his continued *itching about 2020.
As Pisano explains:
Even as Trump’s vocal criticisms may have inadvertently strengthened the alliance, Trump worked to diminish the influence of NATO, reportedly planning to withdraw from it in his second term. As a candidate, Trump had even remarked that, “Maybe NATO will dissolve, and that’s OK, that’s not the worst thing in the world.”
John Bolton assured us that Trump would have withdrawn the U.S. from NATO in a second term. Even during the first, our allies didn’t trust Trump to be there in the case of an invasion, “America First.”
Regarding undermining Ukrainian leadership:
Trump also broke with longstanding bipartisan support of Ukraine. During the Trump administration’s first year, Volodymyr Zelenskyy was still a showman whose comedy troupe performed patriotic musical numbers with lyrics like “There’s fog over Brussels and frost in Washington” and used a MeToo leitmotif comparing Ukraine’s treatment by Russia and the West to a sexual assault. When Zelenskyy beat an incumbent president in a landslide, Trump actually withheld military aid to Ukraine, sending personal emissaries to Kyiv to try to pressure and undermine Zelenskyy in the eyes of Ukrainians by asking him to “do us a favor, though.”
Yes, “talk to Rudy” is not exactly a way to enhance Ukrainian strength on the international stage.
Finally, with respect to undermining democracy, Trump overperformed. Many of his followers were openly hostile to democracy even prior to the election.
And both while in office and since leaving it, Trump worked tirelessly to cast doubt on the legitimacy of American elections, going to great yet unsuccessful lengths to find evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential contest. Trump makes assertions about American elections that echo the Kremlin’s, even reciting a trope about voting by “dead souls” that comes from 19th-century Russian literature. At rallies, Trump repeats the same claims he made the day of the January 6 attack on the Capitol: “You don’t concede when there’s theft involved.”
Why does Putin hate democracy? We can answer that ourselves. Putin can only thrive in a world where corruption is not only tolerated but the primary means of doing business. It is often said that oil is Russia’s only real and best export. As the great Rachel Maddow once said, wrong, Russia’s primary export is corruption. If you are ready to deal, Putin and his friends are ready to deal. Commoners can fend for themselves.
Again, a lot of the reasoning is intuitive enough that some of us have mentioned it prior to even reading the article; “Putin was too busy strengthening his beachhead in the United States to invade anywhere else.”
We might offer a fourth reason. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine as an aggressive war of choice has angered and united the world. Trump would have been under massive pressure to “do something,” and the less Trump did (as Putin would want) the weaker Trump would look, becoming less and less viable as a candidate for a second term.
Regardless, the next time your MAGA uncle or friend, if you have one left to whom you’re still speaking, says that Putin was afraid of Trump, you have your answer. “Wrong. Putin was forced to invade Ukraine to get back all those luxuries he enjoyed under Trump.”
Jason Miciak is a political writer, features writer, author, and attorney. He is originally from Canada but grew up in the Pacific Northwest as a dual Canadian-American citizen, which he grows increasingly thankful for every day. He now enjoys life as a single dad, writing from the beaches of the Gulf Coast, getting advice from his beloved daughter and teammate. He is very much the dreamy mystic that cannot add and loves dogs more than most people. He also likes studying cooking, theoretical physics, cosmology, and quantum mechanics. He likes pizza.
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