Shortly before Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled the start of a military operation in Ukraine, former President Donald Trump continued to lavish praise on the leader.
Speaking at a political fundraiser held at his Mar-a-Lago country club in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump admired the Russian dictator's strategic success.
"I mean, he's taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions," Trump said. "I'd say that's pretty smart. He's taking over a country — literally a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in."
As Russia's military began its assault on Ukraine, explosions were heard in Kyiv and Kharkiv, cities that are home to millions of Ukrainians. American intelligence agencies have warned that a Russian invasion of Ukraine could result in the deaths of 50,000 civilians, 25,000 Ukrainian soldiers and 10,000 Russian troops. The war between the two neighbors could also trigger a massive refugee crisis across Europe.
On Tuesday, Trump made headlines by praising Putin's decision to send troops into Ukraine to support Russian-backed separatists in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
"This is genius," he said on a radio program. "So Putin is now saying it’s independent — a large section of Ukraine. I said, how smart is that? And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace, all right."
As he did on Tuesday, Trump didn't miss a beat in assuring his audience that while Putin is a "smart" leader, he would never have been able to achieve his goals in Ukraine if Trump were still in power.
"This would never have happened, ever in a million years, it would have never happened," Trump said. "And I know him [Putin] very well. I know him probably almost as well as I know anybody in this room other than Doc Ronny [Jackson]."