No US president has fawned over his Russian counterpart the way President Trump does. True, George W. Bush, in his first meeting with Vladimir Putin in June 2001, did say that he found Putin to be straightforward and trustworthy; but he was in no way sycophantic when he said those words. Five years later, Bush must have regretted his comment when relations between the two nations began to deteriorate. Putin was relentless in his repression on media, the courts, political opponents and civic groups that were pro-democracy.
Trump’s extreme chumminess with the Russian dictator does not sit well with the US intelligence community. They perceive it as a disproportionate friendship, with Putin “playing” Trump, to the detriment of the country, especially from a national security standpoint. At least that is how former CIA Director John Brennan and former National Intelligence chief James R. Clapper see it, as
Putin is a former KGB agent himself.
The president’s sympathies for Moscow, shown in his believing Putin’s denial of election meddling over the FBI, CIA and NSA findings to the contrary, is perplexing. Doesn’t he know that Russia has been America’s adversary since the end of World War ll, because of their differing ideologies? Is he putting his business interests over America’s national interests? Is he indebted to Putin for his win in the election and Putin is now seeking remuneration?
Whatever the case, it’s worth trying to figure out what could possibly break the ties that bind Trump and Putin together, diminish the warmth of their coziness, or make the president understand that his friendship with the Russian is dangerous for the United States. Here are some possibilities:
If Trump repeatedly fails to lift the sanctions against Russia
That Russia meddled in the 2016 elections and was a big factor in Trump’s clinching the presidency is almost a given. Even the intelligence agencies and probably the special counsel believe it, too.
What was Putin’s motive? It is unthinkable that he would do so without a vested interest in the outcome. Putin and Trump already had previous personal connections, thanks to the Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow in 2013 and Trump’s business dealings with Russians.
In exchange for revealing dirt on Clinton and hacking into the Democratic National Committee’s server to retrieve its emails and leak them to the public, Putin wanted the sanctions against Russia lifted when Trump becomes president. The 2014 sanctions had hurt the Russian ruble and plunged the country into an economic crisis.
To make things worse, on August 2, 2017, Trump reluctantly signed into law a bill that imposes new sanctions against Russia or else see it pass without his signature. The bill had overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress. It also included giving Congress the power to block Trump from reducing or lifting these sanctions. Putin was naturally not pleased with the developments and retaliated by ordering the US Embassy in Moscow and its three consulates in other places in Russia to cut their staff from 1,200 to 455. The rest of the employees were ordered to leave the country. In addition, Moscow also seized two US diplomatic properties.
If Trump fails to return the two Russian compounds in the US
In 2016, then President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US and confiscated two compounds in New York state and Maryland. The order was in response to Russia’s election hacking and its invasion of Ukraine. Reprisals of this sort between countries are usually met by reciprocal action but Putin held off on doing the same, since in less than a month Trump would be sworn in as president and Moscow expected positive developments.
Five months into his term, Trump was weighing the issue of returning the Russian properties, but the plan didn’t materialize. Putin must be rethinking his friendship with the US president and considering his next moves.
If Trump helps Ukraine in its war against Russia
In December 2017, Trump approved the large-scale commercial sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine, something that Obama never did.
In 2014, Russia sent its military forces into Ukraine and in an unconstitutional vote, annexed Crimea, a peninsula that is recognized as part of Ukraine. The international community condemned Russia for violating Ukraine’s independence. Trump’s decision to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine adds another complication to his already frayed friendship with Putin.
These are only a few of the issues that could make Putin decide that Trump isn’t the ally he had expected him to be, as internal politics ties the hands of the White House occupant and he cannot even count on all his fellow Republicans for support.
Trump, too, has not been as effusive in his praise for Putin. On the contrary, he recently rebuked Russia for not helping at all in the issue of stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
It may not be long before we see the death of the Trump-Putin bromance, and the president’s approval rating could impossibly rise. For Americans, that would be the day.