Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally on Jan. 29 in Conroe, Texas.

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Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally on Jan. 29 in Conroe, Texas.

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump has praised Russian President Vladimir Putin’s moves in Ukraine, calling him “savvy,” after the Kremlin recognized the independence of two breakaway, Russian separatist-controlled regions in eastern Ukraine.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion … of Ukraine, Putin declares it as independent,” Trump said in an interview Tuesday on the conservative Clay Travis and Buck Sexton Show.

The former president was referencing two rebel-controlled territories, Luhansk and Donetsk, which comprise a larger region called Donbas that borders Russia. The two territories have been led by pro-Russia separatists for nearly a decade.

Putin on Monday recognized the independence of the two territories and ordered Russian troops to conduct “peacekeeping” operations there — sparking international concern that the Kremlin was readying for an attack.

“So, Putin is now saying, ‘It’s independent,’ a large section of Ukraine. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s [the] strongest peace force,” Trump said, adding that that was the kind of show of force the United States could use on its southern border.

Trump’s remarks come as tensions in Ukraine have escalated and the U.S. has ordered sanctions to try to kneecap Russia’s ability to do business with the West.

President Biden on Tuesday called the arrival of troops to Donbas “the beginning of a Russian invasion,” and ordered sanctions in response to Putin’s “flagrant violation of international law.”

Trump criticized Biden’s response, falsely alleging that Biden was only in the White House because the 2020 election had been “rigged.”

“This never would have happened with us,” Trump said in the interview recorded at his Mar-a-Lago property, calling Biden a “man that has no concept of what he’s doing.”

Trump, who has cozied up to Putin in the past, continued: “Had I been in office, not even thinkable. This would never have happened. But here’s a guy that says, you know, ‘I’m gonna declare a big portion of Ukraine independent,’ he used the word ‘independent,’ ‘and we’re gonna go out and we’re gonna go in and we’re gonna help keep peace.’ You gotta say that’s pretty savvy. And you know what the response was from Biden? There was no response. They didn’t have one for that. No, it’s very sad.”

The sanctions Biden announced Tuesday will hit two major Russian financial institutions along with the Russian government’s ability to access Western financing. Additional sanctions in the coming days will target Russian elites and their families, Biden said.

Biden described the sanctions as a “first tranche,” and he warned that the U.S. had prepared further consequences if Putin does not withdraw the troops.

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