Americans are joining the world in expressing their solidarity with the people of Ukraine who are fighting Vladimir Putin’s invasion of their homeland. We see in them a fight for our shared values of democracy and opportunity. The Ukrainian Association of Washington says on its website, “They need YOUR help!”

There is an obvious and necessary step that can further isolate Putin and send a powerful message of support to the people of Ukraine. Putin’s supporters must be kicked out of the Republican Party. As Sen. Mitt Romney said, those who still support Putin are “almost treasonous.”

Putin has gained too much sway over the Republican Party over the last several years. Even on the eve of Putin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, former President Donald Trump called his strategy “genius.” And Fox News Anchor Tucker Carlson asked why the United States shouldn’t be siding with Russia instead of Ukraine. 

That Trump and some of his allies have been played by Putin is now clear. The Kremlin has a long history of skillfully cultivating “useful stooges” in the West dating back to Soviet Union ties with liberals intoxicated by the promise of a worker’s paradise. 

Putin set out to turn the Republican Party before Trump was elected. Trump’s campaign led by Paul Manafort asked to delete from the party platform language that called for “lethal aid” for Ukraine. Manafort had been a political consultant to Putin stooge and former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was deposed by the Ukrainian people for his anti-Western views. Calling removal of the language a “terrible mistake,” former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said at the time: “As long as I’m breathing air, I’m for arming the Ukrainians who want to fight for freedom.”

A bipartisan report of the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded the Trump campaign’s ties with Russia posed a “grave” threat and that Putin aggressively sought to help Trump win. In 2018, President Trump sided against his own U.S. intelligence agency findings that Russia had directed cyberattacks against members of the Democrat party, saying, “President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. … I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

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Putin’s standing among some Trump followers was furthered by his self-promoted image as a strong leader defending “traditional Western values.” One right-wing activist recently told a conservative gathering that Putin is “anti-woke” and “my Czar.”

I was elected chair of the statewide organization Mainstream Republicans of Washington in early 2017, shortly after Trump’s inauguration. On a trip to Belarus at that time, the U.S. acting ambassador, a former Seattle attorney, asked me to meet with a half dozen ambassadors from European countries, including Eastern Europe.

They pressed me whether Trump’s tilt toward Putin and away from NATO and Europe meant that Republicans had turned their backs on defending democracy. I told them that most Republicans did not agree with Trump on Putin, and that American values are determined by its people, not by just one man. I was thus disappointed when polling earlier this year showed that Putin was viewed more favorably by Republicans than President Joe Biden.

My dad, born in Russia near the border with Belarus, came to America as a refugee after World War II. He drilled into his children that the American dream could be ours if we worked hard; and that we should “never trust the Russians.”

So it broke my heart to hear President Trump declare that the American dream was “dead.” It was alarming to see him trust Putin. Like so many in my generation, I had been drawn to President Ronald Reagan’s campaign to bring freedom and opportunity to the countries of Eastern Europe. Former U.S. Sen. Dan Evans told me that behind the scenes, it was Reagan himself who was the driving force to this victory over the Soviet Union’s “evil empire.”

It should now be clear to all that Putin, a former Soviet spy of the fallen “evil empire,” sought to turn the Republican Party into an asset for his goal of Russian rule within the old boundaries of the Soviet Union. Those Republicans who unwittingly became one of Putin’s stooges should now be given the chance to renounce him. But to those who continue to favor Putin after all the killing and suffering he has caused, well, there is simply no place for them in the Republican Party. They have lost faith in democracy and in our country.

Republicans are proud of our party’s leadership in spreading freedom to Ukraine and other countries. It’s time for a new generation of Republicans to reclaim that mantle of moral leadership. We are the party that has faith in the American dream. By affirming “Glory to Ukraine” and “Nyet” to Putin, Republicans will send a strong message that Americans are united in supporting that country’s brave fight for freedom and opportunity.