Donald Trump has continued his long-held position of refusing to say a bad word about Russian President Vladimir Putin, declining to say if he wants Ukraine or Russia to win the war.

 

What did he say?

 

“I don’t think in terms of winning and losing. I think in terms of getting it settled,” Trump said in a CNN town hall before a live audience in the state of New Hampshire.

 

“I want everybody to stop dying. They’re dying. Russians and Ukrainians. I want them to stop dying. And I’ll have that done,” Trump said, opposing the establishment Republican policy of backing Kyiv. “I’ll have that done in 24 hours. I’ll have it done. You need the power of the presidency to do it,” Trump said.

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How does he intend to do that?

 

Earlier in the town hall, Trump insisted that he could halt the war that intensified dramatically in February last year by negotiating directly with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

 

“I’ll meet with Putin. I’ll meet with Zelensky. They both have weaknesses and they both have strengths. And within 24 hours, that war will be settled. It’ll be over,” Trump said.

 

And what would that actually mean?

 

At this stage of the conflict, negotiations would likely mean rewarding Putin's imperialist aggression with Ukrainian land.

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Kyiv would view any loss of territory to Russia as a huge blow and has consistently declared its stated goal as the successful liberation of all Russian-occupied territory.

 

Did he say anything else about Putin?

 

In a different section of the event, Trump declined to say if he believes that Putin is a war criminal for alleged atrocities committed in Ukraine.

 

“If you say he’s a war criminal it’s going to be a lot tougher to make a deal to make this thing stopped,” he said.

 

“If he’s going to be a war criminal, people are going to grab him and execute him, he’s going to fight a lot harder than he’s fighting under the other circumstance. That’s something to be discussed at a later day.”

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Did he say anything at all critical about Putin?

 

The closest he got to criticizing the Russian president, who is responsible for unleashing the biggest land war in Europe since World War II, was to say he thinks that he “made a mistake” by invading Ukraine.

 

When asked to elaborate, Trump said: “His mistake was going in. He would have never gone in if I was president.”

 

This sounds familiar

 

It’s classic Trump – in March of last year, Trump told a rally in Georgia: “The smartest one gets to the top. That didn’t work so well recently in our country.

 

“But they ask me, ‘Is Putin smart?’ Yes, Putin was smart. And I actually thought he was going to be negotiating. I said, ‘That’s a hell of a way to negotiate, put 200,000 soldiers on the border.’”

 

Trump said Putin made a “big mistake,” but that “it looked like a great negotiation.”

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What’s the official Republican line on Ukraine?

 

In general, the Republican party line is to support Kyiv in its fight against Russia, though there are differences within the party as to just how much support there should be.

 

Trump’s refusal to condemn Putin and refusal to explicitly support Ukraine is an outlier position. Although given his still significant public support and influence on Republican politics, it cannot just be dismissed as such.

 

Elsewhere in the Republican party, anti-Ukraine sentiment is simmering away – for example, in Florida, as Kyiv Post has recently reported.

 

What was the reaction to Trump’s comments?

 

As with just about everything these days, reaction was divided. Some fellow Republicans denounced the comments, with former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan saying a person like Trump has no “business leading our party or back in the White House.”

Nicholas Grossman, an international relations professor at the University of Illinois, was wary of next year’s presidential elections.

And journalist Dylan Burns who is currently based in Ukraine, called Trump a “feckless coward.”

There was also support for Trump’s stance, though it tended to come from people like Kim Dotcom who have a well-documented history of repeating falsehoods about Ukraine.

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Should Ukraine be worried about Trump?

 

Trump, 76, has already announced his bid for a 2024 comeback and is a frontrunner to be the Republican Party’s nominee, despite having been criminally indicted and remaining under multiple other investigations on serious allegations.

 

The CNN event was seen as the first major test of the 2024 campaign for Trump, who has held only a couple of rallies since launching his new White House bid. Biden, who announced last month that he will seek re-election, responded to Trump’s appearance with a fund-raising appeal.

 

“It’s simple, folks,” Biden tweeted. “Do you want four more years of that?”

 

It remains to be seen if Trump can survive his multiple ongoing scandals and actually make it to the elections as a candidate next year, but his track record at suggests he should never be written off entirely.

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