Former United States Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch stated in an interview with Public Broadcasting System (PBS) that she believes Russian President Vladimir Putin may have never invaded Ukraine under the Donald Trump administration.
Yovanovitch was dismissed from her ambassadorship by then-President Trump in 2018, leading to her testimony at the former president’s first impeachment trial in 2019.
PBS host Margaret Hoover asked Yovanovitch if “Putin might not have gone to war if Trump was still in office.”
Yovanovitch responded, “Trump was very dismissive of NATO – I mean, dismissive, it’s obviously a diplomatic word – very critical of NATO, critical of our allies, and his close associates, including John Bolton, have said that if he had won a second term, he would have pulled us out of NATO.”
“I mean, why go to war with Vladimir Putin if the United States will present kind of the corpse of NATO on a silver platter? You don’t need to do that,” she continued.
Hoover pressed Yovanovitch further, asking how she believed “the invasion would have been different if Trump had remained as president.”
“I think that Trump would have provided Putin with enough of what he wanted that perhaps he wouldn’t have invaded,” the former ambassador replied.
After she was asked what Ukraine might look like if Russia never invaded, Yovanovitch declined to answer and noted that the entire topic was hypothetical.
“We are now getting into… this is why diplomats are told never to answer hypothetical questions… I don’t know what Trump would have done, and I don’t know what Putin would have done. But I can’t see Trump, President Trump standing up for Ukraine the way President Biden is right now,” she said.
The statement that Trump being in office may have prevented the invasion of Ukraine echoes comments made by the former president in recent days. In a keynote address to the Heritage Foundation last week, Trump noted how Russia invaded Georgia during George W. Bush’s time in office, annexed the Crimean Peninsula under President Obama, and began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine under President Biden.
“They took nothing from me.” Trump said, adding that “Russia showed how weak they think our leaders are” and labeling Biden as a “leader who is incapable of understanding what is happening.”
Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley has also claimed that the invasion “never would have happened” under Trump’s watch.
In March, Haley told NBC’s Meet the Press that Trump “countered Russia” by sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, increasing U.S. military spending, and making the country energy independent.
However, Nicholas Creel, an assistant professor of business law at Georgia College and State University, wrote an op-ed for Newsweek arguing against claims that Trump being in office would have stopped the Russian invasion.
He noted that talking about the hypothetical of Trump being in office only serves to “needlessly turn our foreign policy into a partisan issue.”
Nonetheless, Creel argued that “the only conceivable reason Putin wouldn’t have invaded Ukraine under a second Trump term” was that the former President “was seemingly hellbent on undermining or even withdrawing the U.S. entirely from NATO.”
NATO is a defense alliance created initially to mitigate the spread of the Soviet Union across Europe. Ukraine expressing a desire to join NATO is considered a significant reason for Russia’s invasion.
“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,” wrote Creel.
Creel added that Trump “never passed up an occasion to speak flattering words” of Putin, and the flattery is “anything but the talk of someone who we can have expected to take a strong stance against the ruthless Russian dictator.”
Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, was also passive on the claim made by Trump, his allies, and the former ambassador to Ukraine.
In an interview with Vice News, Bolton said Trump “made clear” to Putin that he cared very little about Ukraine. Asked if he thought Russia would not have invaded if Trump was in office, he replied, “you never know with Trump.”
“It depends on what time of day it is; it depends on what he thought his political benefit would be at any given moment,” Bolton said. “I don’t think ultimately he would have stood in Putin’s way.”
Recent polling suggests that most American voters agree with the sentiment shared by both Trump allies and Yovanovitch. A recent Harvard Center for American Political Studies poll showed that 62% of American voters believed that President Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if President Trump remained in office.
In March, political columnist Joe Concha at The Hill wrote that “logic agrees” Putin would not have invaded under Trump.
“It’s hard not to connect a dot back to the deadly debacle of the U.S. withdrawal of Afghanistan last August,” when the Taliban took control of the country faster than the Biden administration expected, wrote Concha.
Ultimately, though, the question is “irrelevant,” said Concha.
“Hypotheticals aren’t helping brave, resilient Ukrainians in their fight against Russia – and it doesn’t matter which president or ex-president is to blame.”