For Trump, the honeymoon with Putin may
be finally over
Send a link to a friend
[July 29, 2017]
By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russian President
Vladimir Putin tossed President-elect Donald Trump a bouquet in December
when he chose not to retaliate for the U.S. expulsion of Russian
diplomats and seizure of Russian diplomatic compounds.
The honeymoon is over.
Russia's tit-for-tat decision to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats and
seize two U.S. compounds may be an acknowledgment in Moscow that Trump's
ability to bring better ties is limited, at best, and the start of a new
downward spiral in relations.
Russia took the step after the U.S. Senate on Thursday sent a
breath-taking signal that it does not trust Trump on Russia by passing a
bill that imposes new sanctions on Moscow and ties the president's hands
if he seeks to ease them.
The White House issued a statement on Friday night saying Trump had
negotiated changes to the legislation and now intends to sign it.
"(The Russians) have taken Trump's measure and while they are willing to
exploit his goofy fixation on Putin and naive sense you can do deals
with someone like Putin ... they realize his clownish performance as
president makes it really hard for him to deliver on any of the big
things that Russia wants," said Andrew Weiss, a former national security
council Russia expert.
At the top of Russia's wish list is an easing of U.S. sanctions imposed
for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and its destabilization of
eastern Ukraine, something the Senate action would all but rule out.
Another, all but inconceivable, item would be formal U.S. recognition
Russia's claim to Crimea.
"Trump's performance surely has left nobody in Moscow with the
impression he is a guy who can deliver," said Weiss, now at the Carnegie
Endowment for International Peace think tank.
Trump's desire, often expressed during the 2016 presidential campaign,
to improve relations has been hamstrung by findings from U.S.
intelligence agencies that Russia interfered to help the Republican
against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
A federal law enforcement investigation and multiple U.S. congressional
probes looking into the possibility that Trump's campaign colluded with
Russia, have made it harder for Trump to open a new chapter with Putin.
Russia denies it interfered in the election and Trump has said there was
The Senate's 98-2 passage of the sanctions bill, which followed a 419-3
vote in the House of Representatives, forces Trump to take a hard line
on Moscow or veto the legislation and infuriate his fellow Republicans.
The huge margins mean Congress could easily override a veto.
[to top of second column]
President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin
during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany
July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Weiss suggested that Trump's low approval ratings at home, his
tendency to alienate NATO allies such as Germany and his inability
to pass domestic legislation all contribute to a Russian perception
that he is weakening the United States.
"(That) is going to pay dividends for Moscow, so there is no need to
turn him away from the course he is already on which is
self-destructive and bad for America's standing internationally. All
of that is a huge win for the Kremlin," Weiss said.
Russia gave the United States until Sept. 1 to cut its diplomatic
staff in Russia to 455 people, the number of Russian diplomats left
in the United States after Washington expelled 35 Russians in
December because of the alleged election hacking.
It also said it would seize a Moscow compound used by U.S. diplomats
as well as a U.S. diplomatic warehouse.
Some former officials said Russia could take other steps, such as
seeking to help Russian-backed forces seize more ground in eastern
Ukraine or to try to limit U.S. air operations in Syria, while
others said any reaction might be more muted.
Russia could look at imposing economic counter-sanctions against the
United States, the former official said, saying he thought that
retaliation in Ukraine or Syria was less likely because it was more
likely to lead to a U.S. counter response.
Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012-2014, said
he does not think that Russia will escalate tensions with the United
States just yet because Trump’s assertions that he wants better
relations with Moscow are encouraging Putin to continue seeking some
kind of accommodation with the U.S. president.
“I don’t think they are going to walk away from that just yet,” said
McFaul. “I believe that Putin still believes there might be
something he can do with Trump.”
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay and Yeganeh Torbati;
Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
[© 2017 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2017 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.