Trump pushes for Russia-Ukraine talks, complicating GOP politics

Former President Trump has emerged as the most prominent advocate in the United States of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to broker a cease-fire as hostilities between the two sides ratcheted up over the weekend.

The former president’s public push for some kind of truce cuts against the public views of many Republicans, who have backed support for Ukraine in the war, and reflects some of the schisms within the party between Trump and his staunchest defenders and other prominent conservatives.

Trump has used both his social media platform, Truth Social, and recent public appearances to broadly criticize the Biden administration’s handling of the war. Trump has not offered many specifics on how he would approach the situation differently, other than to declare Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have invaded if Trump were still in office.

But while the Biden administration has been adamant that it will not push for negotiations that Ukraine does not support, Trump has been vocal that the two sides should broker a cease-fire, even suggesting at one point that he could be involved in the talks.

“With potentially hundreds of thousands of people dying, we must demand the immediate negotiation of the peaceful end to the war in Ukraine, or we will end up in World War III and there will be nothing left of our planet all because stupid people didn’t have a clue,” Trump told supporters Saturday at a rally in Arizona. “They really don’t understand … what they’re dealing with. The power of nuclear. They have no idea what they’re doing.”

Those comments came days after Trump claimed during a speech in Miami that his relationship with Putin would have prevented the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February.

“You would never in a million years — they wouldn’t be there. So sad,” Trump said at an event organized by the America First Policy Institute. “When I see all these people being killed, it’s got to stop. They’ve got to negotiate a deal. It’s got to stop.”

Trump last month posted on Truth Social in the wake of damage to the Nord Stream pipelines, which carry natural gas from Russia to parts of Europe, that world leaders should not escalate the situation.

“Be strategic, be smart (brilliant!), get a negotiated deal done NOW,” Trump wrote. “Both sides need and want it. The entire World is at stake. I will head up group???”

While it is easy to dismiss Trump’s remarks, he remains a favorite for the GOP presidential nomination, a contest expected to intensify after the midterms. If he doubles down on some of his positions, it could have unpredictable consequences on the politics of arming and aiding Ukraine next year.

One GOP strategist said Trump’s views won’t be a major factor in the midterms for Republicans with domestic issues dominating the campaign. But if Republicans retake majorities in both chambers of Congress, Trump could turn up pressure on lawmakers to adopt some of his rhetoric.

For now, experts believe the former president’s views are not widely shared given public support for Ukraine remains high, and the U.S. and its allies have been unwilling to budge on ceding Ukrainian territory to Russia as part of any negotiation.

“What I can tell you is that Mr. Putin started this war and Mr. Putin could end it today — simply by moving his troops out of the country,” John Kirby, a spokesperson with the National Security Council, said Sunday, adding that Putin has shown “no indications” that he’s willing to sit down and negotiate an end to the war.

Other prominent Republicans have also shied away from direct calls for negotiating an end to the war in the way Trump has, instead focusing on recent missteps by President Biden and reinforcing the need to support Ukraine.

“The destruction today in Kyiv is horrific — allies and partners must get Ukraine the missile defenses and long-range weapons it has asked for,” GOP members of the House Armed Services Committee tweeted Monday. “Arbitrary red lines by the Biden admin that hinder lethal aid shipments will only prolong this conflict.”

Mike Pompeo, who served as secretary of State under Trump and is viewed as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, focused on “Fox News Sunday” on Biden’s warnings of nuclear “Armageddon,” saying the focus should be on quiet diplomacy and public pressure on Putin.

“America has always pushed back against our adversaries by showing enormous resolve, executing quiet diplomacy in the same way that we did during our time in office,” Pompeo said. “Making very clear to Vladimir Putin that the costs of him using a nuclear weapon will bring the force of not only the United States and Europe, but the whole world against Vladimir Putin. We ought to be doing that. I hope that they’re doing this quietly.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence, another prospective 2024 contender, has previously denounced those in his party who sympathize with Putin. Pence also visited the Ukrainian border in March to visit with refugees.

But other conservatives more fiercely loyal to Trump have shown the party is not entirely united on the issue. 

Dozens of House Republicans voted against a $39 billion aid package in May. Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) drew blowback for calling Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a “thug.” And Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to Trump who has spread conspiracies about the 2020 election, said on a right-wing web show last week that Putin and his top deputy are “bold leaders” with “everything at stake in terms of protecting their country.”

Eight months after Russia first invaded Ukraine, the war has ratcheted up considerably in recent weeks. Following a series of successful Ukrainian counteroffensives to push back the Russian military, Putin sought to illegally annex four Ukrainian regions and mobilize hundreds of thousands of Russian men into the military.

An explosion over the weekend damaged a critical bridge linking Russia to the occupied Crimean Peninsula that was a key supply chain route and a personal point of pride for Putin. The Russian leader personally drove a truck over the bridge when it opened in 2018.

In response, Russia launched missile attacks on multiple Ukrainian cities on Monday, killing dozens of civilians.

To some experts and those inside the White House, Putin’s brutal response underscored the need to avoid publicly talking about an off-ramp for Russia at a time when it is launching attacks on Ukrainian territories.

“These attacks only further reinforce our commitment to stand with the people of Ukraine for as long as it takes,” Biden said Monday in a statement. “Alongside our allies and partners, we will continue to impose costs on Russia for its aggression, hold Putin and Russia accountable for its atrocities and war crimes, and provide the support necessary for Ukrainian forces to defend their country and their freedom.”

Tags Biden Donald Trump Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden russia ukraine Vladimir Putin

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