Several prominent Republicans are currently claiming that, were Donald Trump still president, Russia would have never dared to invade Ukraine. Not only does this sort of talk needlessly turn our foreign policy into a partisan issue, it is also resting on assertions that are offensively disconnected from reality.
The core of this contention rests on the idea that Trump was a strong leader who Russian President Vladimir Putin would have never dared crossed. The notion that Trump would have shown so much strength as to have deterred Russian aggression requires that we forget both who Trump is and what he did as president. Even a cursory look at these two things will yield ample evidence which suggests that the former president would have been neither capable nor willing to do anything to stop Ukraine's invasion.
If anything, there are more Republicans taking up this line now because the vast majority of Republicans have finally conceded that Putin isn't really a good guy, while they still must condemn the Democratic President. Creel explains that the Kremlin's decision to invade Ukraine
rests, in no small part, on the fear that Ukraine could join said alliance and annihilate its long standing hold over Eastern Europe. Trump was, at best, outwardly indifferent to Ukraine joining NATO. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, openly told Ukraine not even three months ago that membership was essentially theirs for the taking. If anything, 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, before it enjoyed a powerful shield of protection from the United States and Western Europe.
Former Security Council official Fiona Hill told Politico the other day
Putin tried to warn Trump about this, but I don’t think Trump figured out what he was saying. In one of the last meetings between Putin and Trump when I was there, Putin was making the point that: “Well you know, Donald, we have these hypersonic missiles.” And Trump was saying, “Well, we will get them too.” Putin was saying, “Well, yes, you will get them eventually, but we’ve got them first.” There was a menace in this exchange. Putin was putting us on notice that if push came to shove in some confrontational environment that the nuclear option would be on the table.
Putin didn't tell President 45 that Russia wouldn't move against Ukraine as long as Trump was President. He threatened him with the use of hypersonic missiles, described here as " a revolutionary new type of weapon, one that would have the unprecedented ability to maneuver and then to strike almost any target in the world within a matter of minutes." Trump may not have fully understood what the Russian President was saying, but it is clear that Putin believed he had an ace in the hole, one of the factors which encouraged him to invade Ukraine.
If the presidency of Joe Biden also has emboldened Putin, Republicans have not clearly explained how. That may have ensued because President Trump spent four years trying to destroy the capacity of European nations to act in concert to curb aggressive behavior by the Kremlin. And with the notable exception of Senator Mitt Romney, Republicans aided and abetted him.