Why did Putin wait until Trump lost to invade Ukraine?
Kremlin photos of Putin and Trump

There's a reason Vladimir Putin waited until Donald Trump left office to invade Ukraine, and it's not what conservatives are saying about it.

The Russian president has been planning the war on his neighbor for years, and foreign policy expert Jessica Pisano explained in a column for Politico why Putin launched the invasion after Trump lost his re-election campaign.

"Some American politicians and commentators on the political right have tried to answer the question by comparing the purported strength or weakness of President Joe Biden with that of Trump, alleging that Putin saw Trump as stronger than Biden, even though Putin’s own description of Trump suggested the opposite," wrote Pisano, an associate professor of politics at the New School for Social Research and an associate of the David Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. "But beyond personality, there’s a far more likely and logical explanation if you look at policy alignment between Russia and America during the two administrations: With Trump in office, Putin was already getting what he wanted. The election changed all that."

Trump and Putin had little daylight between them on the issues the Kremlin most cared about -- NATO, Ukraine and undermining democracy -- and the Russian president used the Trump years to plan the war he launched with Biden in the White House.

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"In Trump, Putin had a fellow-traveler," Pisano wrote. "Far from ensuring world peace, the Trump years instead offered Putin a useful pause he utilized to further military readiness and prime the Russian population for a hot war."

Russia's political leadership sees itself as being at war with the Western world, and the Kremlin has worked since before Trump entered politics to destabilize and undermine democracies -- and its invasion of Ukraine is just one more front in that conflict.

"Far from deterring Putin, Trump did the opposite," Pisano wrote. "Thanks to Trump, Putin was able to take advantage of a period of apparent detente during which Trump actually pursued Putin’s own policies of weakening NATO and democracy and destabilizing the West — leaving Putin free to prepare his war against the free people of Ukraine and their democratically elected government."