GOP Senator Rick Scott refuses to condemn Trump for praising Vladimir Putin, says it’s ‘up to him’

Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott dodged a reporter’s question over the weekend on whether Donald Trump should condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine.

Scott, who leads the Senate GOP arm dedicated to electing more Republicans, was quick to condemn the Russian autocrat himself but said it was ‘up to’ Trump to do so. 

Speaking to CBS News at the sidelines of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Scott instead pivoted to calling on Democrat President Joe Biden to do more for Ukraine’s government and people and claiming Trump’s main focus was helping Republicans take back the majority in Congress in this year’s midterms.

Trump invoked outrage across the political spectrum late last week when he praised Russia’s authoritarian leader’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine as a ‘genius’ and said his plan of designating two separatist breakaway areas as ‘independent’ was ‘pretty savvy.’

During his big speech headlining CPAC on Saturday evening, Trump walked his comments on Ukraine back but continued to speak glowingly of Putin. He instead blamed the Biden administration for Russian forces’ invasion.

‘The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling. It’s an outrage, and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur,’ Trump told his audience in Florida last night.

A view of damage due to armed conflict between Russia, Ukraine in Donetsk region under the control of pro-Russian separatists, eastern Ukraine on February 27

Ukrainian fighters have continued to stave off a Russian takeover of their country in a historic resistance effort

Ukrainian fighters have continued to stave off a Russian takeover of their country in a historic resistance effort

Scott would not say that Trump should condemn Putin despite repeatedly being asked

Scott would not say that Trump should condemn Putin despite repeatedly being asked 

However, he also said: ‘Yesterday reporters asked me if I thought President Putin is smart. I said of course he’s smart. The problem isn’t Putin is smart — which of course he is smart — it’s that our leaders are dumb.’ 

Shortly before the speech, CBS journalist Robert Costa asked Scott whether Trump should be condemning Putin in future comments.

‘Well, clearly, we all ought to be condemning what’s going on in Ukraine. I mean, Putin is a thug. We need to hold him accountable. I hope the Biden administration, hope everybody, you know, holds — does everything they can to hold the Biden administration –‘ Scott began.

Costa cut Scott short to as if that should include the former president.

‘Well that’s a decision by President Trump,’ Scott replied. ‘You know, Biden — Putin is a thug, it’s despicable, my heart goes out to the people of Ukraine.’

‘I’m going to do everything I can to help the Ukraine citizens, we need to make sure we provide all the resources we can.’

Costa pressed him again, ‘So is it up to him whether he condemns Putin or not?’

‘Of course it’s always up to him,’ Scott said.

Images from the Ukrainian city of Sumy show a Russian tank burning just days after newly revealed dashcam footage showed a huge column of tanks moving into the city

Images from the Ukrainian city of Sumy show a Russian tank burning just days after newly revealed dashcam footage showed a huge column of tanks moving into the city

An Ukrainian Territorial Defence fighter examines a destroyed Russian infantry mobility vehicle GAZ Tigr after the fight in Kharkiv on February 27

An Ukrainian Territorial Defence fighter examines a destroyed Russian infantry mobility vehicle GAZ Tigr after the fight in Kharkiv on February 27

The senator brushed off further questioning on whether Trump should be encouraged to do so.

‘It’s always up to every individual to do whatever they want,’ Scott replied.

Asked if he, as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, wanted Trump to issue a ‘strong message’ against the invasion, Scott said: ‘Well, I talked to President Trump. I talked to Republicans all over the country. We’re all focused on making sure we get the Senate back.’ 

It’s possible Scott does not want to be caught on Trump’s bad side, after it was reported that the ex-president has been trying to court Scott to challenge Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell for his top role.

Trump had beseeched Scott during a private meeting at Mar-a-Lago to run for leadership against McConnell, CBS reported.. 

Scott unequivocally ruled out such a challenge in his Saturday afternoon interview. 

Ukraine’s forces have been putting up an historic resistance to the Russian military as it attempts to advance on the capital of Kyiv. 

Nearly 200 Ukrainians have died as of Saturday morning since Russia’s invasion began early last week, an official at Ukraine’s Ministry of Health said. More than 1,000 Ukrainian citizens have been injured.

Russia’s casualties number more than 3,500, according to the BBC, though reports indicate that the devastating figure has not reached Kremlin-controlled media channels.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed Sunday that Kyiv and Moscow would engage in peace talks at his country’s border with Belarus. His office released a statement crediting Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for brokering the talks, which he said would go on ‘without preconditions.’

Lukashenko, who allowed Putin to send his troops to Ukraine via Belarus just days ago, promised that all weapons and war tech stationed in his country would remain on the ground when officials meet.

At the same time Putin declared in a televised addressed that he had ordered troops operating the nuclear deterrent onto a ‘special regime of duty’ in light of ‘aggressive statements’ from NATO leaders and ‘unfriendly economic actions’. 

Hours earlier Ukraine filed a lawsuit against Russia at the Hague, with Zelensky requesting that the UN International Court of Justice orders Russia to stop its attack against Ukraine and start trials. 

‘Ukraine has submitted its application against Russia to the ICJ. Russia must be held accountable for manipulating the notion of genocide to justify aggression. We request an urgent decision ordering Russia to cease military activity now and expect trials to start next week,’ Zelensky said in a statement on Twitter. 

Ukraine war latest, at a glance  

  • Kyiv and Moscow will hold peace talks at the border with Belarus, Volodymyr Zelensky today confirmed
  • The Ukrainian President’s office said the two delegations will meet ‘without preconditions’ near the Pripyat River, to the north of Chernobyl 
  • Russia failed to capture Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv during fighting on Saturday night and Sunday morning 
  • But Russian forces entered Ukraine’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, on Sunday morning
  • Street battles were reported to be taking place, while pictures appear to show one Russian military vehicle on fire
  • Oleh Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration, said Ukrainian forces are fighting Russian troops in the city and asked civilians not to leave their homes 
  • However reports in Ukrainian newspapers suggest troops have managed to repel the Russian advance on Kharkiv, with one British reporter on the ground confirming that the city remains under Ukrainian control despite this morning’s attack.
  • Russian forces have reportedly blocked Kherson and Berdyansk and delivered another missile strike on Ukraine’s military infrastructure, the Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov says
  • UN reports that at least 240 Ukrainian civilians have been killed 
  • At least 200,000 people have fled Ukraine to three countries, with 150,000 said to have crossed into Poland alone
  • Unconfirmed reports that a cancer hospital for children in Kyiv had been shelled by Russians forces meanwhile have also been debunked
  • It has been reported by Ukrainian news site TSN that the boy was killed when a children’s hospital in the city 
  • According to the Kyiv Independent, at least two children and two adults were wounded during an incident at Okhmadyt children’s cancer hospital
  • However the New York Times debunked the claims, saying that while gunfire was heard near to the hospital it had not been shelled by artillery
  • Ukraine’s foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko says their airforce shot down a missile aimed at the capital Kyiv, by a plane that flew in from Russian ally Belarus 
  • Ukraine’s defence ministry today appealed for foreigners to come forward to join its armed forces and fight back Putin’s army, with Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine urging people to contact his department.  
  • According to UK intelligence, fighting in Kyiv last night was at a ‘lower intensity’ than the previous evening
  • The MoD said there had been an ‘intensive’ exchange of rocket artillery in Kharkiv, followed by ‘heavy fighting’ between Ukrainian and Russian forces
  • As the fighting raged on, Russia claimed it was engaging in peace talks with the Ukrainian government in Belarus 
  • Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the delegation includes military officials and diplomats. ‘The Russian delegation is ready for talks, and we are now waiting for the Ukrainians,’ he said. 
  • However, while Zelensky said that while said the Ukraine was ready for peace talks, he said they would not be taking place in Belarus – which was a staging ground for Russia troops prior to the invasion
  • In a televised address, Zelensky, standing beside a Ukrainian flag dressed in an army green t-shirt and jumper, said: ‘If there had been no aggressive action from your territory, we could talk in Minsk… other cities can be used as the venue for talks
  • He later said Russia should be stripped of its seat at the United Nations Security Council over its invasion of his country
  • Meanwhile, Ukraine has obliterated a 56 tank convoy of feared Chechen fighters
  • Among those killed was one of Chechnya’s top generals, Magomed Tushaev  
  • At least two blasts have rocked the country in the early hours of Sunday local time
  • Vasylkiv, which sits southwest of Ukraine, saw its air base’s fuel depot attacked by Russian ballistic missiles
  • Subsequent blaze cast an eerie orange glow over Kyiv, around 40 kilometers north east 
  • Gas pipeline was blown up near Kharkiv, sending huge mushroom cloud billowing into the sky
  • Woman was killed in Kharkiv after Russian shell hit apartment block
  • Russian premier said to be furious at slower-than-expected efforts to conquer Ukraine 
  • UK Armed Forces Minister James Heappey, writing in The Telegraph, warned Putin’s days ‘will surely be numbered’ if he fails in his ambition to take Kyiv 
  • Mr Heappey, a former major in the Rifles, said if Putin failed and the Russian people could be shown ‘how little he cares for them… Putin’s days as president will surely be numbered and so too will those of the kleptocratic elite that surround him. He’ll lose power and he won’t get to choose his successor.’
  • However there are fears that delays in Russia’s invasion plan could lead Putin to become more desperate in his attempts to crush Ukrainian resolve
  • A Russian thermobaric rocket launcher was spotted by a US film crew south of Belgorod, Russia, near the Ukrainian border
  • US and EU have agreed to curtail Russia’s use of SWIFT messaging system, which is vital to for global financial transactions
  • Donald Trump condemned the invasion Saturday
  • He said: ‘The Russian attack on Ukraine is appalling, it’s an outrage and an atrocity that should never have been allowed to occur. It never would have occurred. We are praying for the proud people of Ukraine. God bless them all.’
  • China’s ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong shared a video scotching claims he’d fled Kyiv 
  • Urged other Chinese nationals in Ukraine to shelter 
  • Comes as China tries to condemn attack while keeping ally Vladimir Putin on side

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