WASHINGTON, DC. (LEX18) — During a congressional hearing on Tuesday, Paul had a contentious exchange with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Paul told Blinken that U.S. support for Ukraine to join NATO played a role in Russia's invasion.
"Knowing full well that Ukraine was unlikely to ever join NATO, since it had already been 14 years since they said they were going to become members, why was it so important last fall - before this invasion - to continue agitating for Ukraine's admission to NATO?" Paul asked Blinken.
Blinken argued that the U.S. was simply defending NATO's open-door policy.
"These are sovereign decisions for European countries to make and, of course, for the NATO Alliance to make in terms of making sure that a country that wishes to join actually adds value to NATO," said Blinken.
He argued that Russia cannot dictate a sovereign country's alliance decisions.
"One country can't dictate to another the choices it makes about with whom it aligns," said Blinken.
As Paul expressed concerns over a NATO expansion, he pointed out that Russia's more recent attacks have been on countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. Blinken pushed back saying former Soviet Union countries have the "fundamental right" to "decide their own future and their own destiny."
"I'm not saying it's not," Paul quickly added. "But I'm saying the countries that have been attacked - Georgia and Ukraine - were part of the Soviet Union."
"That does not give Russia the right to attack them" Blinken responded.
Paul emphasized that "no one's saying it does."
That exchange quickly spread on social media and critics accused Paul of echoing Putin's justification for invading Ukraine.
Alexander Vindman, who served as the director of European and Russian affairs for the National Security Council during the Trump administration, criticized Paul's comments.
"Paul implies that Russia is justified in attacking Ukraine because, UKR was once part of the USSR," tweeted Vindman. "By that logic Britain is justified in attacking the U.S. and colonial powers their former holdings."
Charles Booker, a Democrat hoping for a chance to run against Paul late this year, accused Paul of "pushing Putin's propaganda in the Senate."
Paul's team says that is not what the senator was doing.
"While there is no justification for Putin’s war on Ukraine, there is an explanation for the invasion, which was the point Dr. Paul was making," said Kelsey Cooper, a spokesperson for Paul.
"As Dr. Paul has expressed publicly many times before, he has a great deal of sympathy for Ukraine, and clearly stated his support for them in his remarks [Tuesday], saying: ”I’m proud of how well the Ukrainians have fought, I’m supportive of their cause," Cooper added.
Video of the exchange shows Paul emphasizing that "there is no justification for the invasion."
"But I think there are reasons for the invasion," added Paul.