Ukraine is in the throes of fighting off an invasion from Russia and Vladimir Putin, one that has resulted in thousands of lives lost and, on Wednesday, the bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital. Democrats and Republicans in the United States have found rare common ground in standing behind Ukraine and its president, Volodomyr Zelensky. It’s been a little more difficult for the GOP, though, the ranks of which have included a number of Putin apologists, most notably former President Trump, who are now trying to temper their praise for the authoritarian.
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) is among the Republicans who haven’t seemed to have much of a problem with Putin’s designs on one of America’s allies. “Instead of being the police force of the world, some people who want to say, ‘Oh my goodness, well you know what, there’s this terrible border crisis going on in Ukraine and Russia, Vladimir Putin, blah blah,’” Cawthorn said at Turning Point USA’s AmericaFest in December. “I don’t care. I really don’t.”
Cawthorn took it a step further over the weekend by bashing Zelensky. “Remember that Zelensky is a thug,” Cawthorn said in a video obtained by North Carolina’s WRAL. “Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
“Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) March 10, 2022
Describing Zelensky as a “thug” could have been ripped from the first page of Putin’s propaganda playbook, but Cawthorn’s office insists he simply doesn’t want America to get involved.
“The Congressman was expressing his displeasure at how foreign leaders, including Zelensky, had recently used false propaganda to entice America into becoming involved in an overseas conflict,” Cawthorn spokesperson Luke Ball said in a statement provided to Rolling Stone. “He supports Ukraine and the Ukrainian President’s efforts to defend their country against Russian aggression, but does not want America drawn into another conflict through emotional manipulation.”
Cawthorn responded himself in a short Twitter thread, arguing that pro-Ukraine propaganda could lead Americans into another war. “Propaganda is being used to entice America into another war,” he wrote. “I do not want Americans dying because emotions pushed us into a conflict.”
“The actions of Putin and Russia are disgusting,” Cawthorn added. “But leaders, including Zelensky, should NOT push misinformation on America. I am praying for Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Pray also we are not drawn into conflict based on foreign leaders pushing misinformation.”
Americans are indeed lionizing Zelensky and Ukraine as they battle Russian aggression, as Rolling Stone‘s EJ Dickson covered this week, but there are no plans — and no political will — for American troops to be deployed to take part in the conflict. The White House has thrown cold water on the idea this could even be a possibility, and Democrats and Republicans have indicated they would unite in opposition to putting troops on the ground just as strongly as they’ve united in support of Ukraine.
So what, then, is Cawthorn actually accomplishing by trashing Zelesnky as he fights an invasion from an authoritarian regime? It’s hard to say, outside of spreading Kremlin propaganda to his supporters in the name of scoring cheap political points at home.