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Former U.S. presidents respond to Russia's assault on Ukraine

Biden on Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Special Report: President Biden addresses Russia's invasion of Ukraine 25:50

All of the living former U.S. presidents, with the exception of former President Trump, have issued formal statements condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine

Republican and Democratic ex-presidents characterized the Kremlin's assault as "brazen," "reckless," "the gravest security crisis on the European continent since World War II" and an "unjust assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine." President Biden issued new sanctions on Russian financial institutions Thursday, calling Putin's attack "premeditated."  

"Russia's attack on Ukraine constitutes the gravest security crisis on the European continent since World War II," said former President George W. Bush. "I join the international community in condemning Vladimir Putin's unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine. The American government and people must stand in solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as they seek freedom and the right to choose their own future. We cannot tolerate the authoritarian bullying and danger that Putin poses."

Former President Barack Obama said Russia launched an attack on Ukraine "not because Ukraine posed a threat to Russia, but because the people of Ukraine chose a path of sovereignty, self-determination, and democracy."

"For some time now, we have seen the forces of division and authoritarianism make headway around the world, mounting an assault on the ideals of democracy, rule of law, equality, individual liberty, freedom of expression and worship, and self-determination," Obama said. "Russia's invasion of Ukraine shows where these dangerous trends can lead – and why they cannot be left unchallenged."

Obama urged Americans, regardless of party, to support Mr. Biden's efforts to sanction Russia. 

Obama critics pointed out that in a 2012 presidential debate, he appeared to mock then-candidate Mitt Romney for calling Russia the biggest geopolitical threat. At the time, Obama said the "1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back."

Former President Bill Clinton said Putin's "war of choice has unraveled 30 years of diplomacy and put millions of innocent lives in grave danger." 

"The world will hold Russia and Russia alone accountable, both economically and politically, for its brazen violation of international law. I stand with the people of Ukraine and am praying for their safety," Clinton said. 

Former President Jimmy Carter, who was president during the Cold War, while the Soviet Union was still intact, said Russia's "unprovoked attack on Ukraine using military and cyber weapons violates international law and the fundamental human rights of the Ukrainian people."

"I condemn this unjust assault on the sovereignty of Ukraine that threatens security in Europe and the entire world, and I call on President Putin to halt all military action and restore peace," Carter said. "The United States and its allies must stand with the people of Ukraine in support of their right to peace, security, and self-determination."

Trump, Mr. Biden's predecessor, has not issued a formal statement about Russia's incursion in Ukraine since it took place, although he did appear on Fox News as the invasion began.

"This all happened because of a rigged election," the ex-president claimed to Fox News host Laura Ingraham. 

He called the situation a "terrible thing," but said Putin "wanted to do something and negotiate and it just got worse and worse." 

"And then he saw the weakness. And you know it really started, I think with the weakness in Afghanistan," Trump said, an apparent reference to the chaotic U.S. withdrawal at the end of last August.

At a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser Wednesday evening, before the assault began, Trump called Putin "pretty smart" in "taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions."

— CBS News' Fin Gomez contributed to this report.

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