The disgraced former president’s top national security adviser has been doing a slew of interviews the past few weeks. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, John Bolton, like most former national security advisers, has found himself being asked for his opinion on rapidly changing events. John Bolton’s bona fides as a truly terrifying warmonger span decades, and he has been critical of Trump—for a price. Bolton says what most of us already know: Trump’s extortion attempts, in the form of holding back military aid from Ukraine in order to dig up dirt on then-candidate Joe Biden’s son Hunter, is a big part of the reason Vladimir Putin did not invade Ukraine until now.
“He obviously saw that Trump had contempt for the Ukrainians. I think that had an impact,” Bolton told VICE earlier this month. Bolton goes on to detail a phone conversation Trump had with Vladimir Putin, shortly after Volodymyr Zelenskyy was elected, during which Trump asked Putin how he felt about him. According to Bolton, Trump’s lack of knowledge and backbone in that conversation likely reinforced Putin’s belief that Trump didn’t have strong feelings in support of Ukraine’s leadership.
Trump’s choice to bring Bolton on to replace H.R. McMaster was considered ominous at the time, since Bolton’s No. 1 foreign policy idea has always seemed to be “invade everybody.” But Bolton was in the rooms where Donald Trump conducted foreign policy discussions and played little brother to Putin. “Trump had no idea what the stakes were in Ukraine,” Bolton said.
Bolton also pointed out that Trump’s general dislike of NATO, and his work to undermine NATO, worked in favor of Putin’s position. Trump’s interest in Ukraine, according to Bolton’s book, only perked up in “the summer of 2019 when [Trump] realized that he could have the possibility of holding up the obligation and delivery of substantial security assistance [to Ukraine] in an effort to get access to the Hillary Clinton computer server that he felt was in Ukraine, finding out about Hunter Biden’s income in Ukraine, and all of these things in this spaghetti bowl of conspiracy theories. That was the first time he really focused.”
In fact, Bolton explained to VICE, Trump’s lack of curiosity for anything is profound. “It's hard for me to describe how little he knows,” Bolton tried to explain. This true mediocrity is why Trump’s reasoning for things is so whimsical and useless. He has no context or knowledge for much of anything. “He once asked [then-White House Chief of Staff] John Kelly if Finland was part of Russia. What he cared about was the DNC server, and Hunter Biden, and the 2016 election, and the 2020 election. That's what it was all about. And I think he had next to no idea what the larger issues were.”
As a result, Vladimir Putin didn’t have to be aggressive about much of anything regarding U.S. policy in the region. “I think one of the reasons that Putin did not move during Trump’s term in office was he saw the president’s hostility of NATO. Putin saw Trump doing a lot of his work for him, and thought, maybe in a second term, Trump would make good on his desire to get out of NATO, and then it would just ease Putin’s path just that much more.” In another interview, Bolton said of Trump’s threats to pull out of NATO, “I think Putin was waiting for that.”
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Bolton’s beef with Trump has also led him to rail against the right-wing narrative that Trump was tough on Putin, with the U.S. under Trump applying sanctions to Russia. “In almost every case, the sanctions were imposed with Trump complaining about it, saying we were being too hard,” told Newsmax when that ultra-right-wing outlet tried to get him to go along with the narrative that Biden was at fault for everything in the history of ever.
Bolton, in an interview with the Washington Post earlier in March, Bolton said that he believed Vladimir Putin’s lack of open invasion of Ukraine during the Trump administration was possibly predicated on the Russian dictator’s belief that Trump would pull the United States out of NATO during a second term in office.
Arguably the saddest exchange between Bolton and VICE’s interviewer is the one when Bolton says he is unsure what Trump would have done if Russia had invaded Ukraine when Trump was in office. He joked, “He never got that server! Those Ukrainians wouldn’t give him the server!” The interviewer remarked that Ukraine probably wished that this mythical server with Hillary’s secret plans existed so they could have ingratiated themselves to Trump. Bolton’s reply, also clearly joking (or half-joking, at least) sounds like something Trump and the MAGA world would have held up as proof, not the absurdist joke it would have been:
“They should have given him a server and said, ‘Hey, we found that—may have been erased, but here's the server.’”