Trump, in U-turn on Putin, Condemns Atrocities, Salutes Zelenskyy's Courage

Former President Donald Trump headlined the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Saturday night in his home state of Florida, and his conference focused on bashing Democrats as a war rages between Russian and Ukraine.

Even while Trump slammed Democratic leadership, he took time to acknowledge the war in Ukraine. The former president said Putin's "appalling" attack was an "atrocity," and that it would have never happened if the 2020 election was "not rigged."

This comes just days after Trump called Putin's attack "genius."

Meanwhile, Trump said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was a "brave man who did absolutely nothing wrong" while staying in his country to help defend his countrymen who were under attack, and he also called the Russian attack "appalling."

"The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling, it's an outrage and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur," Trump said before a raucous GOP crowd in Orlando. "We are praying for the proud people of Ukraine. God bless them all. As everyone understands, this horrific disaster would never have happened. If I was the president, very simply it wouldn't have happened."

Donald Trump
Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 26, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. CPAC, which began in 1974, is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Trump trumpeted his own one-term presidency, saying Russia had attacked no other countries during his administration. Trump said he brought peace, and that powers like Russia stood down while he was at the helm during this century.

"Under Bush, Russia invaded Georgia; under Obama, Russia took Crimea; under Biden, Russia invaded Ukraine," Trump said. "I stand as the only president of the 21st century on whose watch Russia did not invade another country."

Trump has been rather cozy with Putin over the course of the last decade, including the 45th president's administration. Trump said in 2018 that "I'll also see Putin over a period of time. It would be a fantastic thing if we got along with Putin and if we got along with Russia. And that could happen, and it may not happen, it may be just the opposite."

Trump has previously said he likes strength, and that's why he gets along with Putin and Russia ally Xi Jinping of China.

"I like President Xi a lot. I consider him a friend, and – but I like him a lot. I've gotten to know him very well. He's a strong gentleman, right? Anybody that – he's a strong guy, tough guy."

As for Putin himself, Trump said in 2016 that the Russian leader "has very strong control over a country."

"Now, it's a very different system and I don't happen to like the system, but certainly in that system, he's been a leader. Far more than [Barack Obama] has been a leader."

Trump didn't spend much of his hour-long speech talking about the war in Ukraine, but he was poignant in pointing out President Joe Biden as the potential weak link why it happened now instead of the previous administration, calling Biden "weak and grossly incompetent."

"You could take the five worst presidents in history, and they wouldn't have done the damage President Joe Biden has done in such a short time," Trump said. "Joe Biden has turned calm into chaos, competence into incompetence, stability into anarchy and security into catastrophe."

This comes less than 48 hours since Trump called Putin "very savvy" and "wonderful" because of the attacks.

Trump still went as far to defend his admiration of Putin's attacks, saying the Russian president would have shown weakness to stand down his military because of "sanctions" against him.

"I have no doubt that President Putin has made his way ruthlessly on the attack of Ukraine," Trump said.

Trump went on to mention an interview he gave this week about Putin, in which the journalist asked Trump if Putin was a smart president.

"I said "Of course he's smart,"" the former president said. "If you take over Ukraine, they're going to sanction you, they say. Sanction? Well, that's a pretty weak statement," Trump said, then continued.

"Putin is saying "Sanction me?" They've been sanctioning me for the last 25 years, so you mean I can take over an entire country and they're going to sanction me? You mean they're not going to blow us to pieces?"

Trump used most of his CPAC speech to blister the Democrats while bolstering Republicans, talking about things like border security, COVID-19, election laws, voter ID, taxes, gas prices, and more. He also said the U.S. must defend free speech in the country by standing up to tech giants, which was a subtle way to interject his new social media platform Truth Social that launched earlier in the week.