Sen. Rand Paul got flak Tuesday for his comments on the Russian invasion of Ukrainewith some people criticizing him for echoing one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s talking points.
During an exchange with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Paul pointed out that Russia’s attacks, in the recent past, have been on countries that were once part of the Soviet Union.
Putin publicly has dismissed Ukraine’s right to function as a sovereign nation separate from Russia.
The Kentucky Republican’s comments came during a congressional hearing with Blinken, during which Paul raised concerns about US displays of support for Ukraine potentially joining the NATO military alliance, including during former President George W. Bush and President Joe Biden’s administrations.
He Blinken: “Knowing full well that Ukraine was unlikely to ever join NATO since it had already been asked 14 years since they said they were going to become members, why was it so important last fall — before this invasion — to continue agitating for Ukraine’s admission to NATO?
Blinken responded: “It’s a question of standing up for the basic principle, that we strongly adhere to, that there should be and will be an open-door policy when it comes to NATO membership.”
Paul, who has repeatedly opposed US military involvement in other countries during his political career, questioned the decision to push for “something that we knew our adversary (Russia) absolutely hated and said was a red line.”
“Now, there is no justification to the invasion. I’m not saying that. But there are reasons for the invasion,” said Paul, who later added he’s “proud of how well the Ukrainians have fought” and is supportive of their cause .
When Blinken noted Russia has, in the recent past, attacked countries that weren’t members of NATO — specifically Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova — Paul countered with: “You could also argue the countries they’ve attacked were part of Russia, or part of the Soviet Union, rather.”
Blinken said he disagreed with that proposition, adding: “It is the fundamental right of these countries to decide their own future and their own destiny.”
“I’m not saying it’s not,” Paul replied. “But I’m saying that the countries that have been attacked, Georgia and Ukraine, were part of the Soviet Union…”
Blinken jumped in: “That does not give Russia the right to attack them…”
“No one’s saying it does,” Paul interjected.
Blinken continued: “…When everything came to a head, it is abundantly clear, in President Putin’s own words, that this was never about Ukraine being potentially part of NATO, and it was always about his belief that Ukraine does not deserve to be a sovereign, independent country.”
Blowback was swift on Paul’s comments
Paul’s exchange with Blinken quickly was met with disapproval online, including in a critical Rolling Stone article about his comments and in tweets by figures like Alexander Vindmana former National Security Council staffer whose testimony was a key part of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment.
“Paul implies that Russia is justified in attacking Ukraine because, UKR was once part of the USSR. By that logic Britain is justified in attacking the US and colonial powers their former holdings. What century does he live in?” Vindman tweeted Tuesday afternoon.
US Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., shared a video of Paul’s exchange with Blinken and commented: “Rand Paul truly is ridiculous.”
Charles Booker, a well-known Kentucky Democrat who hopes to defeat Paul in the fall election, also criticized the senator’s statements Tuesday and asked for campaign donations to help boot him out of office.
“Rand Paul just attempted to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He is actively pushing Putin’s propaganda in the Senate, and I will remove him from office in November,” Booker tweeted.
Paul’s spokeswoman, Kelsey Cooper, defended Paul’s comments in a statement Tuesday afternoon.
“While there is no justification for Putin’s war on Ukraine, there is an explanation for the invasion, which was the point Dr. Paul was making. Any other interpretation of the exchange is a blatant attempt to misinform,” she said. “As Dr. Paul has expressed publicly many times before, he has a great deal of sympathy for Ukraine, and clearly stated his support for them in his testimony today, saying: ‘I’m proud of how well the Ukrainians have fought, I ‘m supportive of their cause.'”
Morgan Watkins is The Courier Journal’s chief political reporter. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @morganwatkins26.