Former President Donald Trump doubled down on his past praise of Vladimir Putin on Saturday, calling the Russian president “smart” but describing his invasion of Ukraine as “a big mistake.”
“They ask me if Putin was smart. Yes, Putin was smart,” Trump said at a rally in Commerce, Georgia, before adding that he was surprised by Putin’s decision to start a war.
“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,” he said. “I think he made a big mistake, what he’s done to so many people. Boy, that was a big mistake. But it looked like a great negotiation, that didn’t work out too well for him.”
Though Trump called Russia’s invasion a mistake, he has not condemned Putin as a leader. Earlier this month, Trump called Putin a “genius” for invading parts of Ukraine after declaring those regions to be independent. In a subsequent interview with Fox News, Trump declined to call Putin “evil” when confronted about those remarks.
An estimated 2,570 civilians have been recorded as killed or wounded since the start of Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24, according to a recent tally by the United Nations, which said the actual count is likely considerably higher. The U.N.’s tally includes more than 80 dead children.
NATO this week also estimated that 7,000 to 15,000 Russian soldiers have died from fighting.
Trump on Saturday also called Chinese leader Xi Jinping “smart.”
“He runs 1.5 billion people with an iron fist. Yeah, I think he’s pretty smart. And they have a chain over there. If you’re a dummy, you get left here,” he said, gesturing low. “It’s like a pyramid. The smartest one gets to the top. That didn’t work so well recently in our country.”
Trump, who repeated his false claims of “massive voter” fraud during the 2020 election, also predicted that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan will “be next.”
“I would say that that’s a very good possibility that he will invade Taiwan, because he doesn’t respect the United States of America any longer and he had a lot of respect for us a year and a half ago,” he said.