(The Hill) — Former Vice President Mike Pence on Friday will rebuke those in the Republican Party who have praised Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent weeks, including most prominently former President Trump.
“There is no room in this party for apologists for Putin. There is only room for champions of freedom,” Pence will tell a gathering of Republican National Committee (RNC) donors, according to excerpts shared with The Hill.
The comments from Pence are a tacit criticism of Trump and others who have complimented Putin’s intelligence and strategy as he directed Russia to invade Ukraine without provocation.
Trump last week said on a radio show that Putin’s decision to unilaterally declare portions of eastern Ukraine as independent republics was “pretty savvy” and “genius.” Putin’s recognition of those territories preceded a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this year also referred to Putin as a “talented statesman” with “lots of gifts.”
And Tucker Carlson, an influential Fox News host, questioned why Americans should hate Putin and described Ukraine as a country essentially managed by the U.S. government.
Those comments have drawn blowback from many in the Republican Party, especially as Russia has escalated its attacks on Ukraine and indiscriminately fired missiles at civilian centers and a nuclear facility, raising the risk of catastrophic casualties.
Trump shifted his tone earlier this week, calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “a holocaust.”
The Trump administration during its four years imposed harsh sanctions on Russia, but Trump himself frequently faced criticism for his praise of Putin personally and his rejection of the intelligence community’s determination that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Pence, in his speech on Friday night, is expected to praise the strength of the NATO alliance, which has offered reinforcements to Ukraine in the form of equipment and positioned troops along its eastern flank to protect against Russia expanding its attacks beyond Ukraine, which is not a NATO member.
“To those who argue that NATO expansion is somehow responsible for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, ask yourself, where would our friends in Eastern Europe be today if they were not in NATO?” Pence will say, according to prepared remarks.