For a while it seemed that President Donald Trump's curious affinity for President Vladimir Putin of Russia had not softened his own U.S. administration's hard-line policies.
Since Trump took office, anctions against Russia were tightened. Russian compounds seized inside our borders by the Obama administration went unreturned. A largely-symbolic bombing raid was carried out in Russia-aligned Syria over an alleged chemical weapon attack. Intelligence agencies reported they were taking precautions against a repeat of Russia's electronic election meddling.
Earlier this month, onetime UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, who left on reasonably good terms with the president, kept up the standard hard-line Republican posture at a Long Island Association appearance.
"They get their power from causing chaos and division in other countries," she said. "There’s not a bad actor in the world where Russia’s not holding their hand.”
But in recent months the U.S. president has taken high-stakes positions clearly aligned with those of Putin's regime.
Christopher Anderson, the former special adviser for Ukraine negotiations, testified before Congress Wednesday about the U.S. response last November when Russia seized Ukrainian military vessels heading to a port in the Sea of Azov.
Anderson said he and State Department colleagues "quickly prepared a statement condemning Russia for its escalation," but "senior officials in the White House blocked it from being issued."
After the United States pulled forces out of northern Syria earlier this month, Russian and Syrian troops moved in. They took over abandoned American positions, and the Turkish government won its objective of clearing previously U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters out of a key area.
Ukraine draws military support from the United States for its clash in its east against Russian-backed separatists.
Trump stalled that aid over the summer while trying to extract a pledge from the Kiev government to probe his domestic rivals. This is now a focus of House impeachment hearings.
Back in May, Trump met over the objections of his top national security advisers with one of Ukraine's biggest critics, Viktor Orbán, the authoritarian prime minister of Hungary, who helped sour Trump on Ukraine, according to several published reports.
Orbán's allegations of Ukrainian corruption are said to echo those of Putin who also has communicated with Trump regarding the former Soviet republic.
On Sunday, as Trump announced the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he thanked Russia before he thanked the Kurds.
When questioned, the new national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, denied this was a signal. O'Brien told NBC News that there will be times when American interests “overlap” with Russian interests.
Trump insisted during the 2016 campaign that he was "no puppet" of Putin's.
Perhaps. But the U.S. president does keep showing an interesting deference to the more disciplined leader.