Biden and Trump Trade Accusations of Emboldening Putin in Ukraine Conflict

The rivals have traded blame for helping to start the conflict in Ukraine

US President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, his political rival, have accused each other of emboldening Russia in its conflict with Ukraine. They traded barbs about each other’s foreign policy during a presidential debate hosted by CNN in Atlanta, Georgia on Thursday.

Trump argued that Biden has damaged America’s standing on the global stage, which he claimed was one of the factors that convinced Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch the ongoing military operation in Ukraine in February 2022.

“If we had a president that was respected by Putin, he would have never invaded Ukraine,” Trump said. “[Biden] did nothing to stop it. You know, I think he encouraged Russia [to] go in.”

The former president suggested that Putin “saw the incompetence” of Washington during the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in 2021. He described it as “the most embarrassing moment in the history of our country,” and said “When Putin saw that, he said, ‘You know what, I think we’re going to go in [Ukraine],’”

When Biden had his turn to speak, he insisted that it was Trump who “encouraged Putin.”

“This guy told [Putin], ‘Do whatever you want.’ And that’s exactly what Trump did to Putin – encouraged him,” Biden said. Trump interjected, saying “I never said that.”

Asked by CNN’s Dana Bash if the peace terms proposed by Putin to Ukraine are “acceptable to you,” Trump replied: “No, they’re not acceptable.” He then reiterated his claim that he would “have that war settled” if reelected. 

Biden stressed that the US must continue helping Ukraine and claimed that Russia could potentially attack a NATO country in the future. “If [Putin] takes Ukraine, what do you think will happen to Poland?” Biden told the audience watching at home. “I’ve never heard so much foolishness. This is a guy who wants to get out of NATO,” he said about Trump.

“He keeps talking about, go ahead, let Putin go in and control Ukraine, and then move on to Poland and other places. What happens then?”

Putin, for his part, has repeatedly said that Russia has no intention of attacking NATO members, and that it was “stupid” to suggest otherwise.