Forget for now all those suggestions by candidate Donald Trump that if he were elected he’d thaw U.S. relations with Russia’s Vladimir Putin regime.
The new semblance of a Cold War goes on pretty much as it did before Trump arrived at the White House amid stormy questions about his private-sector Russian relationships.
Trump repeatedly signaled while campaigning that he’d hold President Vladimir Putin harmless for his clashes with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“The relationship [with Putin] is great, and it would be great if I had the position I should have,” Trump said in March 2015.
That summer, he said if he became president, Putin would “never keep” National Security Agency data leaker Edward Snowden in his country. “I’d get along well with Putin.”
By October, he hailed Putin’s role in Syria as set on destroying ISIS.
“We’re going to have a great relationship,” he vowed the following April.
“Wouldn’t it be nice if he actually got along with Russia?” Trump said repeatedly through a summer in which he also questioned the nation’s NATO obligations.
Now, facing multiple probes into his campaign’s contacts with well-connected Russians, the president is proving unable or unwilling to make changes he suggested.
So on a visit Tuesday to Tbilisi, Vice President Mike Pence, as administration spokesman, denounced Russian “aggression” and “occupation” of Georgian territory. Pence took a similar tone in Estonia, another former Soviet republic.
Back home, Trump is expected any day to sign stepped-up sanctions set by the GOP-led Congress. In response, Putin already has ordered the U.S. to drastically cut its staff in Russia.
On Monday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced that a Pennsylvania company will send 700,000 tons of coal to Ukraine — seen as a way of undercutting Russia’s clout inside that country’s eastern borders.
Also, officials on Monday were quoted as saying the Pentagon and the State Department have submitted plans to the White House to supply Ukraine with anti-tank missiles.
Only last summer, Trump campaign operatives succeeded behind the scenes in removing a GOP platform plank calling for just such measures.
Under the circumstances, any appearance of collaboration with the Russian agenda stands out as a political risk for Trump & Co.
Last month, officials under Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin fined ExxonMobil $2 million for signing business deals in 2014 with Igor Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, a giant oil firm partially owned by the Russian government.
At the time, ExxonMobil was headed by Rex Tillerson, now Secretary of State. Exxon since has filed a legal complaint against Mnuchin’s department.
In a speech Monday in Estonia, Pence sounded as if he were answering for Trump’s 2016 positions in hindsight — and, to a degree, for the muddle left after Trump met Putin in Europe.
“The president and our Congress are unified in our message,” Pence said. “A better relationship and the lifting of sanctions will require Russia to reverse the actions that caused the sanctions to be imposed in the first place.”