Donald Trump said in an April 2014 interview that Russia's invasion of Ukraine was "so smart."
“Well, he’s done an amazing job of taking the mantle," Trump said of Russian president Vladimir Putin in an interview with Fox News' Eric Bolling. "And he’s taken it away from the president, and you look at what he’s doing. And so smart. When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, okay, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit."
"Interestingly, I own the Miss Universe pageant," Trump added. "We just left Moscow. He could not have been nicer. He was so nice and so everything. But you have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong."
Trump's praise of Putin has earned him a steady stream of criticism, most recently from Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. The recent attacks have been fueled by a hack into the Democratic National Committee's email system which many suspect the Russians are behind, and a comment Trump made last week, when he called on Russia to find Clinton's 30,000 missing emails.
On Sunday, when speaking on ABC's This Week, he said at first that Putin was "not going into Ukraine," before conceding that "he's there in a certain way." Trump also said in the interview that "the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."
Those comments echo remarks Trump made in a May 2014 speech to the National Press Club.
“And another country, wants to come in and join—they love Russia," he said then. "They say—now we send in our pollsters, we say, ‘That’s not true.’ Well, you know, guess what? They want to form with Russia. How the hell are we involved? Okay, we’re involved in all of this. Isn’t Europe supposed to be involved in this?”
That April, in a speech at the Freedom Summit, Trump argued that the pro-Russia movement in Crimea was real and not a "setup."
"Russia is, like, I mean, they're really hot stuff," he said. "And now you have people in the Ukraine, who knows, set up or not, but it can't all be set up. I mean, they're marching in favor of joining Russia. I mean, you know, you can send some people in."
Meanwhile, in another March 2014 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump reiterated his praise for Putin's intervention in Ukraine, saying it was smart to do it right after the Olympics, which were held that year in Sochi.
“So he has the Olympics," Trump said that May. "The day after the Olympics, he starts with Ukraine. The day after. How smart? You know, he didn’t want to do it during the Olympics. Boom. The day after. So our athletes leave, we all leave, and the day after. And you know, when he goes in and takes Crimea, he’s taking the heart and soul because that’s where all the money is. I was surprised. I heard that the other day. They were saying, most of the wealth comes right from that area.”
"That's the area with the wealth," Trump continued. "So that means the rest of Ukraine will fall and it's predicted to fall fairly quickly. Because without the money, it's like this country. If we don't make this country great, it's gonna fall. It's gonna really fall. It's already falling. You go into our airports, you go look at our bridges, you look at our roadways, we're becoming a third-world country. So when you see what they're doing in Ukraine, it's just a question of time."