- A former national security official says Trump was partly responsible for the war in Ukraine.
- Alexander Vindman cited Trump’s Ukraine scandal and the Capitol riot as inflection points.
- “We missed an opportunity to harden Ukraine against Russian aggression,” he said. The New York Times.
Former Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified in former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial, says the division sown by the Capitol riot paved the way for the invasion of Ukraine by Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this year.
“Just a few months after January 6, Putin began building up his forces on the border. He saw the discord here,” Vindman said. The New York Times Magazine in an interview. “He saw the huge opportunity presented by Donald Trump and his Republican lackeys.”
“These people have sent the signal that Putin has been waiting for,” added Vindman, who previously served as director for European affairs at the US National Security Council.
His comments come more than a month after Russian forces invaded Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday, February 24.
Several former Trump officials told The Times that the Trump administration’s numerous scandals contributed to a geopolitical climate that allowed Putin to take power in Ukraine.
Vindman, along with Fiona Hill, former senior director for Europe and Russia at the US National Security Council, specifically cited Trump’s first impeachment trial – which dealt with allegations that Trump refused military aid from Ukraine in order to persuade Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate his political opponent, President Joe Biden – as a tipping point.
The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted Trump in February 2020, which only served to “embed” the president, according to former national security adviser John Bolton.
“This is Trump saying, ‘I got away with it. And thinking, if I get away with it once, I can get away with it again,” Bolton told The Times. “And he got away with it again.”
Trump was impeached for a second time in January 2021 on an incitement charge following the deadly Capitol riot. The Republican-controlled Senate acquitted him once again.
Vindman, who was removed from the NSC after testifying against Trump, said he ultimately came to see these individual events — the Ukraine scandal and Trump’s efforts to void the 2020 presidential election — as “part of a larger tapestry”.
“The domestic effects of all of this are bad enough. But there’s also a geopolitical impact,” he told The Times. “We missed an opportunity to harden Ukraine against Russian aggression.”
Instead, Vindman said Ukraine had become “radioactive” for the remainder of Trump’s term, leaving the country without any “serious commitments” from the United States.
“Putin wanted Ukraine back for eight years, but he was trying to figure out when was the right time to do it,” Vindman said.
Bolton echoed his sentiment, telling The Times that Trump’s ordeal in Ukraine served to undermine Zelenskyy, who was new to power at the time.
“It made it impossible for Zelenskyy to establish any kind of relationship with the President of the United States – which, faced with a Russian army on his eastern border, any Ukrainian president would have as a top priority,” Bolton said. “So basically that means Ukraine is losing a year and a half of contact with the president.”
Vindman, who is Ukrainian-American and a Soviet émigré, has previously been candid about the role he thinks Trump and the Republican Party played in encouraging Russia to invade Ukraine.
In an interview with Salon Last month, Vindman said Trump’s refusal to criticize Putin was one of the factors that prompted Putin to act. He also criticized former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Fox News host Tucker Carlson for praising Putin even amid the budding conflict.