Donald Trump doubled down on his praise of Vladimir Putin as “smart” and labelled American leaders “dumb” as Russia continued its invasion of Ukraine.
As world leaders lined up to condemn the Kremlin and impose harsh sanctions on the Russian president, Trump repeated earlier affectionate comments about Putin.
“Yesterday reporters asked me if I thought President Putin is smart. I said of course he’s smart,” he told supporters at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida.
“The problem isn’t Putin is smart — which of course he is smart — it’s that our leaders are dumb,” he said, adding that Nato nations “are not so smart, they are looking the opposite of smart.”
‘We are a stupid country’
The former president went on to blame the Biden administration for the Russian invasion – an attack which Putin has justified by claiming Ukraine is run by “drug-addicted, neo-Nazi” leaders.
“Under our leadership the world was a peaceful place because America was strong and the perception of our country was like it never was before: powerful, cunning and smart. Now we are a stupid country,” Trump said.
In a rambling speech, Trump called Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine an “atrocity”.
“The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling, an outrage and an atrocity that should have never been allowed to occur. We are praying for the proud people of Ukraine, God bless them all,” he said.
“When you have a weak president who is not respected by other nations you have a very chaotic world. The world hasn’t been this chaotic since World War Two.”
Putin, he added, “is playing Biden like a drum and it’s not a pretty thing to watch.” He suggested the Russian president decided to attack Ukraine “only after watching the pathetic withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
It comes after the US, European Union and UK have agreed to block “selected” Russian banks from the Swift global financial messaging system in retaliation for the invasion of Ukraine.
“Restrictive measures” will also be imposed on Russia’s central bank. The measures were announced jointly as part of a new round of financial sanctions meant to impose a severe cost on Russia for the invasion.
The central bank restrictions target the more than 600 billion dollars (£4400 billion) in reserves that the Kremlin has at its disposal, meant to limit Russia’s ability to support the ruble amid tightening Western sanctions. They also will severely constrain Russia’s ability to import and export goods.
Cumulatively the steps taken by the West since Russia began the invasion amount to some of the toughest sanctions on any country in modern times.
US officials said Saturday’s steps were framed to send the ruble into “free fall” and promote soaring inflation in the Russian economy. They noted that previously announced sanctions have already had an impact on Russia, bringing its currency to its lowest level against the dollar in history and giving its stock market the worst week on record.