A Second Trump Term Would Not Have Stopped Putin From Invading Ukraine | Opinion

Several prominent Republicans are currently claiming that, were Donald Trump still president, Russia would have never dared to invade Ukraine. Not only does this sort of talk needlessly turn our foreign policy into a partisan issue, it is also resting on assertions that are offensively disconnected from reality.

The core of this contention rests on the idea that Trump was a strong leader who Russian President Vladimir Putin would have never dared crossed. The notion that Trump would have shown so much strength as to have deterred Russian aggression requires that we forget both who Trump is and what he did as president. Even a cursory look at these two things will yield ample evidence which suggests that the former president would have been neither capable nor willing to do anything to stop Ukraine's invasion.

The only conceivable reason Putin wouldn't have invaded Ukraine under a second Trump term is that it very likely wouldn't have been necessary—with such an obsequious president who was seemingly hellbent on undermining or even withdrawing the U.S. entirely from NATO. This defense alliance, initially created to curb the expansion of the Soviet Union further into Europe, has remained the bane of Russia's existence as it has expanded east in recent years. Every time NATO adds former members of the old Soviet Union, the influence of Russia is further diminished.

Putin's decision to invade Ukraine therefore rests, in no small part, on the fear that Ukraine could join said alliance and annihilate its long standing hold over Eastern Europe. Trump was, at best, outwardly indifferent to Ukraine joining NATO. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, openly told Ukraine not even three months ago that membership was essentially theirs for the taking. If anything, it is precisely because Biden took this stronger stance that cuts against Russian interests that Putin felt he had no choice but to take Ukraine by force now, before it enjoyed a powerful shield of protection from the United States and Western Europe.

Ukrainian servicemen gesture
Ukrainian servicemen gesture as they ride on tanks toward the front line with Russian forces in the Lugansk region of Ukraine on Feb. 25, 2022. ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

Let's also remember when Trump threw his own intelligence agencies under the bus in Helsinki in a servile gesture to the Russian dictator and has never passed up an occasion to speak flattering words of him. Trump's infatuation with Putin continues even today, exemplified by his latest statement that called Putin's initial illegal invasion into Ukraine "genius." This is anything but the talk of someone who we can have expected to take a strong stance against the ruthless Russian dictator. If anything, it's the sort of talk that would now leave our NATO allies in Eastern Europe questioning whether the U.S. would defend them if Russia decided to take back even more territory from its former Soviet satellites.

Least we forget, we indisputably know that Trump held up military aid to Ukraine as he sought to extort the president thereof into kickstarting an investigation into President Biden's son. In point of fact, it's the reason Trump was impeached, for his first time. Ukraine, like most everything else in Trump's life, was never more than a tool to further his own interests.

Relatedly, we must consider that defending Ukraine with sanctions today requires that Americans accept some level of discomfort, largely in the form of higher gas prices in the near term. This sort of economic hardship has direct implications on a president's popularity, meaning they too will pay a cost for standing strong against Russian aggression. It is nigh inconceivable that Trump would have ever considered expending personal political capital on such an endeavor, particularly when said policy would need to be taken so close in time to a midterm election.

The only way to believe Trump would have been strong enough to deter Putin from invading Ukraine is to bat an eye to reality. For those of us with open eyes, we can plainly see the ridiculous nature of such assertions.

Nicholas Creel is an assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.