Fiona Hill says the US looks weak to Putin after 4 years of Trump's 'disastrous presidency,' and it helps explain the Ukraine crisis

Fiona Hill

Fiona Hill, former top Russia advisor to the White House, provides testimony in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump in Washington, DC on November 21, 2019.Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images

  • Fiona Hill in a NYT op-ed says Putin views the US as weakened by Trump’s “disastrous” presidency.

  • Hill said Russia is trying to use Ukraine as leverage to force the US out of Europe.

  • Resolving the escalating crisis “requires acting, not reacting,” Hill said.

Fiona Hill in a new New York Times op-ed contended that Russian President Vladimir Putin saw an opportunity to renew aggression toward Ukraine after the US was left weakened by four “disastrous” years under former President Donald Trump.

Beyond the impact of Trump’s presidency, Hill also pointed to the Afghanistan withdrawal in terms of why Putin sees now as an opportune moment to challenge the West on Ukraine. President Joe Biden continues to face criticism in Washington and beyond over his handling of the Afghanistan pullout, which coincided with the Taliban regaining control of the country.

“From Russia’s perspective, America’s domestic travails after four years of President Donald Trump’s disastrous presidency, as well as the rifts he created with US allies and then America’s precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, signal weakness,” said Hill, who served as the top Russia advisor on the National Security Council under the Trump administration.

Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Hill, who wrote a biography on Putin, said that the Russian president wants “evict” the US from Europe.

“In the 1990s, the United States and NATO forced Russia to withdraw the remnants of the Soviet military from their bases in Eastern Europe, Germany and the Baltic States. Mr. Putin wants the United States to suffer in a similar way,” Hill said. “Ukraine is both Russia’s target and a source of leverage against the United States.”

Russia has amassed a huge force along Ukraine’s border in recent months, sparking fears a new conflict in Europe is on the horizon. The Kremlin claims it doesn’t plan to invade, but Western powers are skeptical given Moscow’s history in the region. Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, and has since supported rebels in a war against Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region.

As the US scrambles for a diplomatic resolution to the situation, Russia has made demands for binding security guarantees — including that Ukraine and Georgia be prohibited from ever joining NATO. The US and NATO have remained firm that the alliance’s open door policy is not up for discussion.

Hill wrote that Putin is hoping “he can strike a new security deal with NATO and Europe to avoid an open-ended conflict, and then it will be America’s turn to leave, taking its troops and missiles with it.”

The US has warned that Moscow will face severe economic consequences if Russia invades, while weighing over sending more troops to Eastern Europe as a deterrent. The Pentagon on Monday said 8,500 US troops are on heightened alert.

Hill warned that another Russian attack on Ukraine would “challenge the entire UN system and imperil the arrangements that have guaranteed member states’ sovereignty since World War II.”

Resolving the escalating crisis “requires acting, not reacting,” Hill said, urging the US to “shape the diplomatic response and engage Russia on the West’s terms, not just Moscow’s.” The US needs to make clear to Putin that he will face “global resistance” in the event of an invasion that would isolate Russia politically and economically, Hill said.

In November, Hill told Insider that Putin views Ukraine as “unfinished business” and that he’s “deadly serious” about taking action.

“One way or another, he wants Ukraine neutralized,” she added. “You’ve got to take it seriously because Russia has crossed the Rubicon many times before when people said they wouldn’t.”

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