A Fateful Cocktail: The Trump-Putin Dynamic, NATO, and Ukrainian Resolve

Mark Goulston
3 min readJun 25, 2023

Weakened NATO + Admired Putin + Underestimated Ukraine = Emboldened Putin

As we grapple with the unfolding of the Russian assault on Ukraine, it’s vital to consider the cascading series of events that led us here. One critical factor is the possible role of former US President Donald Trump in enabling an environment conducive to this egregious act of aggression. Trump’s seemingly pro-Putin stance, coupled with his anti-NATO rhetoric, painted a vivid picture of vulnerability, which Russia appears to have sought to exploit.

Trump’s tenure in the White House marked a stark departure from the American foreign policy consensus. He openly and repeatedly expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin, at times even contradicting his own intelligence agencies to take Putin’s side. This unprecedented tilt towards Putin weakened America’s position as a global leader and eroded the trust of its allies, creating cracks in the bedrock of collective security.

Equally troubling was Trump’s approach to NATO. His consistent criticism of the organization, dubbing it “obsolete” and demanding that member countries pay more for their defense, sent mixed signals about America’s commitment to the alliance. This approach had profound repercussions, effectively weakening the transatlantic alliance and potentially emboldening Russia’s aggressive stance.

Despite warnings from international policy experts, the Trump administration chose to overlook Putin’s authoritarian regime’s sinister undertones. Trump’s reluctance to confront Putin directly created an environment of perceived leniency and “turning the other cheek” if Putin were to take aggressive actions towards adjacent territories. Putin, astute in international power dynamics, may have interpreted this as an opportunity to push the envelope of Russia’s expansionist ambitions.

While Trump’s actions potentially set the stage, the resolve of Ukraine’s President Zelensky and the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian people caught the world by surprise. Zelensky, a comedian turned political leader, has proven to be a formidable adversary. Standing resolute in the face of adversity, his leadership has emboldened the Ukrainian people to remain steadfast in their defense.

Despite Russia’s overwhelming military superiority, the Ukrainian people have put up a valiant fight. Cities under attack have united in their defiance. Citizens have taken up arms, volunteers are thronging recruitment centers, and a powerful sense of national unity pervades the nation. This resilience, coupled with Zelensky’s unyielding leadership, has thrown Russia’s strategic calculus into disarray, a development that wasn’t accounted for.

To say that Trump’s policy choices directly caused Russia’s attack on Ukraine would be an oversimplification. International relations are complex, and many other variables have undoubtedly played a part. However, it is clear that the shift in US foreign policy under Trump contributed to an environment where Russia felt empowered to act more aggressively.

The emergence of Zelensky as a strong leader and the indomitable Ukrainian resistance have indeed been extraordinary developments in this grim scenario. They have provided a ray of hope amidst the clouds of uncertainty, reminding us all of the power of unity in the face of adversity.

It is high time we acknowledge the long-term impacts of foreign policy decisions. As the world reels from the fallout of the Russian attack on Ukraine, we need to understand that today’s geopolitical environment has been shaped, in part, by our recent past and underestimation of the aggressive appetites of totalitarian regimes such as Putin’s. Only then can we begin to build a safer, more secure world for the future.

--

--

Mark Goulston

Dr. Goulston is the world's #1 listening coach and author of "Just Listen" which became the top book on listening in the world