Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was slammed after defending Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, saying Putin's invasion was justified because Ukraine was once "part of the Soviet Union."
Paul issued the remarks with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in attendance, arguing President Joe Biden provoked Putin into ordering the invasion because he supported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's calls for Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Blinken, who'd appeared at the hearing to convince lawmakers to approve the Biden administration's State Department budget, strongly disagreed with Paul's assessment, stressing even countries that were once in the Soviet Union's orbit have "the fundamental right... to decide their own future."
You can watch their exchange in the video below.
Blinken had countered Paul's argument that American soldiers would "be fighting in Ukraine" if Ukraine joined NATO, pointing out that countries Russia had attacked in the past, a list that includes Georgia and Moldova, "were not part of NATO."
But when Blinken noted that Russia "has not attacked NATO countries for probably very good reasons," referring to the complete agreement between NATO allies that an attack against one member is an attack against all, Paul issued the following response:
"“You could also argue that the countries they’ve attacked were part of Russia... or were part of the Soviet Union."
When Blinken replied that the fact that these countries were once part of the Soviet Union does not "give Russia the right to attack them," Paul denied that he was attempting to justify Russia's invasion, though he went on to say, incorrectly, that Ukraine and Georgia “were part of the Soviet Union since the 1920s.”
But the damage was done.
Video of the exchange quickly circulated across social media, exposing Paul to heavy criticism from those who skewered his logic and accused him of regurgitating Kremlin propaganda.
Paul's statements were especially egregious given that in the weeks before the invasion, Russia had issued several security demands the United States and its allies rejected.
Putin aims to curtail the enlargement of NATO, seeking to bar Ukraine from joining the alliance in a bid to assert Russia’s influence over its neighbors, aspirations that gained further prominence after Putin seized the Crimean Penninsula in 2014.
Although Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, it is partnered with the military alliance. This development angered Putin, who views Ukraine not as an independent nation but as land lost as a result of the end of the Cold War, which resulted in the Soviet Union's collapse and diminished Russia's superpower status.
Putin had left world leaders guessing as to whether or not he actually wanted to proceed with an invasion though he clearly wants NATO to curb military exercises in Ukraine and in other former Soviet satellite states, demands that resulted in a diplomatic stalemate.