U.S. – Russia relations 2019-August 2021

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Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations 2017-18
Jamestown Foundation: Eurasia Daily Monitor
Russia Picked Donald Trump and Ran Him for President,
Former Israeli Intelligence Officer Says
(27 December 2018)

Putin is destroying what is left of Russian civil society. Biden must keep the pressure on.
(WaPo editorial board) Alexei Navalny has now served more than six months in prison on a charge intended solely to silence Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken and prominent opponent, and Mr. Navalny’s organization has been gutted by the Russian authorities. With a steady tightening of the screws, Mr. Putin is decimating what is left of Russia’s civil society. …
In May, legislation was introduced to outlaw anyone designated an “extremist” by the government from running for election. The bill was rushed through parliament and signed by Mr. Putin on June 4. Five days later, a Moscow court ruled that Mr. Navalny’s organizations are “extremist.
Russia used a chemical weapon to poison Mr. Navalny. President Biden is overdue in imposing mandatory sanctions for it. When Mr. Biden met with Mr. Putin in June, the American president raised Mr. Navalny’s persecution and vowed to keep up the pressure, because “that’s what we are, that’s who we are.” Mr. Biden pledged to “stand up for the universal and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view.” Yet two months later, Mr. Putin’s war on civil society grinds on.

21 July
Is There a New Status Quo in Russia-West Relations?
Liana Fix
The Biden-Putin summit has elicited hopes for a new status quo in relations between Russia and the West, marked by guardrails and the prevention of further destabilization. Yet this momentum will be short-lived if it is not backed up by coordination between the United States and Europe, and commitment from Moscow.
(Carnegie) High-level summitry is back in Russia-West relations. The recent presidential meeting between Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden in Geneva was from many perspectives a success. In contrast to the meetings during the Donald Trump presidency, the summit delivered on outcomes and at the same time sent a clear political message: no romanticism, no reset.
The United States defined its goals in advance and set the bar low: to limit the most dangerous risks (nuclear weapons and cyber attacks), to prevent further destabilization, and to communicate red lines to each other. The summit could thus set the tone and be a model for future engagement with Russia, through its lack of illusions about the revisionist nature of Russian foreign policy and the autocratic leadership at home combined with acknowledgment of the need to talk in order to limit escalation. This is certainly not the most visionary or transformative approach, but it may be the best available for the time being in Russia-West relations.
For the momentum to last, however, the United States and Europe need to coordinate their policies, and Moscow must demonstrate that it is willing to accept and engage within this new status quo.
… The best-case scenario would be that nothing happens in relations with Russia: the absence of crises, whether in the form of cyber attacks, election interference, a military standoff, or escalating repression. If this new status quo proves to be solid, further topics of joint interest can be put on the agenda, such as the fight against COVID-19 and climate change.

9 July
Biden delivers a warning to Putin over ransomware attacks
The two leaders spoke by phone on Friday, in the wake of more attacks by Russian cybercriminals.
(Politico) President Joe Biden warned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that the United States will “take any necessary action” to defend critical American infrastructure following a massive ransomware attack by suspected Russian cybercriminals.
The proliferation of ransomware attacks is heaping tension on an already spiraling relationship between Washington and Moscow. From Putin’s invasion of Ukraine to a face-off over American citizens detained in Russia, ties between the two countries are largely in tatters.
The ambiguity involved in the latest ransomware attacks has not helped diplomacy. The Biden administration is uncertain if the culprits are controlled by the Kremlin, yet it insists Putin is responsible for stopping the strikes if they are carried out on his soil.
In a call on Friday, Biden spoke with Putin “about the ongoing ransomware attacks by criminals based in Russia that have impacted the United States and other countries around the world,” according to a readout provided by the White House.
The president described the call with Putin…“I made it very clear to [Putin] that the United States expects when a ransomware operation is coming from his soil, even though it’s not — not — sponsored by the state, we expect them to act if we give them enough information to act on who that is,” Biden said.

18 June
We Have to Talk about… Vladimir Vladimirovich
After four years during which the Washington-Moscow relationship served as a testament to Donald Trump’s ludicrousness—both policy and performative—the reset of American global diplomacy that took President Joe Biden from Cornwall to Brussels to Geneva over less than a week in June came to Vladimir Putin on June 16th. Policy foreign affairs sage and former Canadian Ambassador to Russia Jeremy Kinsman places the Biden-Putin bilateral in the context of Putin’s tenure.
(Policy) Surely, Putin can get a better grip on credibility with a more impressive message. That was a point President Biden inferred when they met in Geneva June 16. A big unknown for this June 16 Summit was which Putin would show up? The sardonic, resentful, spoiler? That act is losing its appeal for Russians tiring of the ex-martial arts champion’s constant need to win every bout.
Putin was still semi-sarcastic after the meeting. But he was businesslike in the meeting; respectful, professional. He showed cooperative instincts on foundational multilateral issues of global warming, global health, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, and on the Arctic, and Afghanistan.
Both leaders came to Geneva to manage risks. Biden wanted to encourage Putin’s better instincts but make sure he understood Biden’s obligation to respond to interference and aggression.
He willingly concedes Putin’s enduring grievance that it can’t be a US-run world. But Biden won’t accommodate Russian cyberattacks and disinformation that Putin prizes as a cost-effective way to compete. He made the point that it’s not working, abroad or at home.
We’ll see if Vladimir Vladimirovich gets that and where it goes from here.

15-16 June
Biden meets Putin……..Part 2….How Was It?
Jeremy Kinsman & Larry Haas
JK: Does Putin need a new act? Russian people more interested in improving their economy. BUT allies are wary of problems with US democracy.
LH: Biden is NOT Trump – Putin does not have leverage; democracies are lending support while acknowledging that Democracy in U.S. is having problems.
Jennifer Rubin: The biggest winner in the Biden-Putin summit – Democracy
(WaPo)In keeping with his goal to stabilize relations with Russia, Biden said, “Bottom line is, I told President Putin that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by.” To that end, the two countries will “launch a bilateral strategic stability dialogue, diplomatic speak for saying, get our military experts and our diplomats together to work on a mechanism that can lead to control of new and dangerous and sophisticated weapons.”
Biden sounded restrained but confident as he underscored the constructive tone of the meeting and the benefits of meeting face-to-face.
Five things we learned from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva
Cool normality helped exorcise ghost of 2018’s disastrous Helsinki summit but what else was achieved?
(The Guardian) In the end, the obvious and easy “deliverables” were achieved. One was to normalise the situation of Russia and America’s ambassadors. The Russian ambassador to Washington was recalled after Biden described Putin as a “killer”. The US envoy to Moscow, John Sullivan, also went back in April to the US. Both will now return to their respective embassies, allowing diplomatic life to resume.
There will also be consultations between the US state department and the Russian foreign ministry on a range of issues including the Start III nuclear treaty, due to expire in 2024, and cybersecurity.
Setting the Biden-Putin summit bar low
Editor’s Note:The summit between Presidents Biden and Putin is worthwhile and can modestly advance U.S. interests, but the meeting in Geneva is not about achieving a reset or breakthrough, but instead about better management of a difficult relationship that will remain troubled for the foreseeable future, writes Steven Pifer.
(Brookings) While the previous four American presidents came to office expressing hopes of building a positive relationship with Russia, Biden administration officials have set a more limited objective: a stable and predictable relationship. They have made clear their intention to hold the Kremlin to account for egregious misbehavior but also expressed readiness to work with Moscow where interests overlap. In its first four months, the administration applied sanctions against Russia for interfering in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and the SolarWinds hack while agreeing to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to 2026.
Jeremy Kinsman and Larry Haas on CTV’s Diplomatic Community Biden-Putin summit preview – flexing muscle or using brain? (video)

6-9 June
Sorry Ukraine, Uncle Sam won’t be riding to your rescue: Biden delivers essential wake-up call to Kiev, ending years of delusion
By Professor Paul Robinson, University of Ottawa author of the Irrussianality blog
Since 2014, the US has encouraged Kiev’s leaders to believe that it has their back, come what may. Now, as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline nears completion, the Ukrainian president is screaming betrayal as he realizes he was misled.
… Speaking to Zelensky by phone on Monday, Biden offered to host him in Washington later this summer, after Biden meets Putin in Geneva on 16 June. Apparently, the White House has decided that managing relations with Russia takes precedence over keeping Ukraine happy – a not unreasonable position given that Moscow has nearly 1,500 nuclear warheads in its arsenal, whereas Ukraine has not a single one. The safety of the world tends to focus the mind on what is really a priority.
… the Trump administration imposed numerous sanctions on companies involved in the [Nord Stream 2] project. …the Biden government has waived those sanctions on the main German company involved, in effect giving the pipeline a green light for completion.
This was little more than a recognition of reality: Nord Stream 2 was going to be completed no matter what America did. So it made little sense for the US to degrade its relations with Berlin any more than it has already. Given a choice between the goodwill of rich and powerful Germany on the one hand, or of weak and impoverished Ukraine on the other, it was fairly obvious which one Washington would side with. The only surprise was that it took so long to work it out.
Biden Backs Ukraine Ahead Of His Summit Meeting With Putin
(NPR) Biden’s remarks, which were made in a phone call between the two leaders Monday, were seen as a sign of support for Kyiv ahead of Biden’s high-stakes summit in Geneva with Russian President Vladimir Putin on June 16.
“President Biden was able to tell President Zelensky that he will stand up firmly for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and its aspirations as we go forward,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters. “And he also told President Zelensky that he looks forward to welcoming him to the White House here in Washington this summer after he returns from Europe.”
CNN: Biden invites Ukrainian President to White House in July
Exclusive: Zelensky “surprised” and “disappointed” by Biden pipeline move
(Axios) Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says he learned through the press — not any direct heads-up — that President Biden had decided to stop trying to block a Russian pipeline that Ukraine sees as a dire national security threat.
Zelensky used an hourlong Zoom interview with Axios on Friday to beseech Biden to meet with him face to face before a June 16 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin
Why it matters: Russian gas currently flows through Ukraine en route to Europe. Nord Stream 2, a Russia-to-Germany natural gas pipeline, would allow Russia to circumvent and isolate Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital. Zelensky said the U.S. is the only power capable of stopping Russia.
Prior to the transmission of the most recent report to Congress, the State Department notified the Ukrainian ambassador in Washington and senior officials in Kyiv, including the president’s chief of staff, of the contents of the report,” a White House spokesperson told Axios.
“The administration is committed to continuing to consult with Ukraine as we press Germany to address the risks Nord Stream 2 poses to Ukraine and European energy security. We also welcome Ukraine’s direct engagement with the German government about their concerns.”
“When President Biden meets with President Putin in Geneva, he will stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as he has done in both of his earlier calls to President Putin”
Putin announced Friday the first of two lines is complete and said energy giant Gazprom is “ready to start filling Nord Stream 2 with gas.”
The White House has called the pipeline “a Kremlin geopolitical project that threatens European energy security.” But Biden nonetheless backed off U.S. sanctions on the company working to finish the pipeline.
Zelensky says Biden had offered him “direct signals” that the U.S. was prepared to block the pipeline. Then came the news that Biden would be waiving the sanctions.
An administration source said the White House was considering inviting Zelensky to Washington before Biden’s summit with Putin but declined to move ahead with the meeting after Zelensky’s decision to replace the management of state energy company Naftogaz. That move led to concerns in the administration he was backsliding on anti-corruption efforts.
Putin announced Friday the first of two lines is complete and said energy giant Gazprom is “ready to start filling Nord Stream 2 with gas.”

6 May
The Thorny Road to the Kremlin’s Desired Yalta-2021
By: Pavel Felgenhauer
(Eurasia Daily Monitor) It has long been Moscow’s goal to put together some kind of new Yalta agreement or a “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact 2.0” to carve up Eurasia, including Ukraine, but apparently, Grigory Karasin [Chair of the Federation Council’s Foreign Relations Committee] spelled out this political priority a bit too bluntly. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact has been significantly rehabilitated in Moscow in recent years, though it is still assessed to have been a bad deal with an untrustworthy enemy. In contrast, “Yalta” was an antifascist summit that may have bad connotations in Central and Eastern Europe, but certainly not in Moscow

15 April
U.S. Imposes Stiff Sanctions on Russia, Blaming It for Major Hacking Operation
After years of wrist slaps under President Donald J. Trump, the new measures are intended to have a noticeable effect on the Russian economy.
The sanctions included measures intended to make it more difficult for Russia to take part in the global economy if it continued its campaign of disruptive actions, including in cyberspace and on the border of Ukraine.
While the sanctions might not bite hard immediately, White House officials said they left themselves room to squeeze Moscow’s ability to borrow money on global markets if tensions escalate.
“I chose to be proportionate,” Mr. Biden said in comments at the White House, describing how he had warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia of what was coming in a phone conversation on Tuesday.

6 April
U.S.-Russian Relations Will Only Get Worse
Even Good Diplomacy Can’t Smooth a Clash of Interests
By James Goldgeier
(Foreign Affairs) It is hard to imagine that U.S.-Russian relations could get much worse, but sadly, they are unlikely to get better anytime soon. Over the past two decades, Russian President Vladimir Putin has defined his country’s interests in ways that are incompatible with the interests of the United States and its European allies. The latter believe that democracy, the rule of law, and the provision of security to eastern European countries enhance stability; Putin, meanwhile, considers the spread of democracy to be a threat to his regime and believes that having vulnerable neighbors enhances Russian security.

30 March
Dmitri Trenin: No Emotions or Illusions: The Future of U.S.-Russian Relations
Three decades after the collapse of the USSR, the mindset of Soviet-American détente and “equal, mutually beneficial cooperation” is hopelessly outdated. Furthermore, Russia’s foreign policy suffers from its fixation on relations with the United States.
(Carnegie Moscow) Emotions compel Russia to escalate the confrontation with the United States, or even turn the fight against U.S. global domination into the central idea of Russia’s foreign—and to some extent domestic—policy. This positioning harks back to Cold War–era Soviet policy, but it’s not practicable with Moscow’s current shortage of resources.
There is an illusion that Russia can still prove something to the United States, bring Washington to its senses, and force the United States to respect Russian national interests on the basis of a global Russian-American understanding: some sort of a grand bargain. These illusions have faded over the past four years, but the Russian elites still haven’t completely let them go.
Setting aside emotions and illusions, there are at least ten realistic objectives for Russia’s foreign policy.
First, continue to ensure that any incidents involving Russian and U.S. or NATO troops, aircraft, or ships are avoided or quickly resolved. This is why lines of communication exist, and these lines appear to be in good order. The main goal in U.S.-Russian relations for the foreseeable future is to prevent an unintentional armed conflict. …

19 March
Trump Lackeys Are Teaming Up Again With Putin to Mock Biden
By Jonathan Chait
This week, asked by ABC News if he considered Vladimir Putin a “killer,” President Biden responded in the affirmative. Putin responded by challenging Biden to a debate this weekend. At this point, Donald Trump’s allies immediately weighed in on Putin’s side.
Biden’s response was a reference to Trump’s repeated refusal to acknowledge that Putin murders his political opposition in a way American presidents don’t. … This is a point of tremendous importance to Putin. The Russian strongman wishes desperately to be seen as a peer to American presidents. … Of all the favors Trump gave Putin, the most important may have been his refusal to treat Putin’s regime as categorically different from the United States government. Trump consistently declined to acknowledge Putin’s grossest human-rights violations. When other Western leaders denounced Putin for poisoning his primary dissident, Trump evaded the question and never even conceded Putin did it.
Putin’s view is that he and Biden lead governments that operate along the same basic principles, and the difference between them is simply that he is stronger. That is also Donald Trump’s view. Biden’s clear break with Trump’s line is offensive to Moscow and Mar-a-Lago in equal measure.
US-Russia ties nosedive after Biden-Putin tit-for-tat
(AP) The back and forth underscored Biden’s desire to distance himself from former President Donald Trump’s perceived softness on Putin despite actions his administration took against Russia. Although Biden agreed to extend a major arms control deal with Russia, he has been notably cool toward Moscow and highly critical of many of its activities.
In taking a tough stance on Russia, Biden has said the days of the U.S. “rolling over” to Putin are done. And he has taken pains to contrast his style with the approach of Trump, who avoided direct confrontation and frequently spoke about Putin with approval.
Lost in Translation: US-Russian Discourse Escalates Further
By: Pavel Felgenhauer
As relations enter a freefall, the aggressiveness of buzz-by encounters and intercepts between US and Russian ships and jets may increase. Actual skirmishes may begin to occur on the high seas, in the air or in Syria between US and Russian militaries. The possibility of hot proxy wars will grow, in particularly in southern Ukraine, where the Kremlin may believe it must move to push back the US and its “proxies” away from northern Crimea and the Sea of Azov (see EDM, March 11). All that just because of a stray question, an “Mmm hmm” reply and a dubious translation.
(Eurasia Daily Monitor) Moscow announced, on March 17, that it is recalling “for consultations” its ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, after United States President Joseph Biden’s strong words against his Russian counterpart. In a pre-taped interview for ABC News, when asked by anchor George Stephanopoulos, “You know Vladimir Putin; do you think he’s a killer?” Biden replied, “Mmm hmm, I do,” before adding, “the price he’s going to pay, you’ll see shortly” (Kommersant, March 18).
This was taken in Moscow as an outrageous affront warranting the recall of an ambassador.
Vladimir Putin is known to have a thin skin and to hold extended grudges against people he perceives to have wronged him. The Biden/Stephanopoulos interview seems to have enraged the Kremlin leader; and the entire Russian ruling elite, including all Duma faction leaders, hurried to publicly demonstrate their solidarity with the Russian president by slandering Biden as much as possible (Interfax, March 18).

8 February
Dmitri Trenin: Dealing With Biden’s America
(Carnegie Moscow Center) The main thrust of U.S. policy toward Russia has not changed much with the advent of a new administration. U.S.-Russian interaction on strategic stability issues will go hand-in-hand with persistent condemnation and retribution for what Biden calls Russia’s determination to damage and disrupt American democracy.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s first major foreign policy speech did not contain any surprises. So far, Biden has been consistent in his talking points. America is back. Diplomacy will be at the center of foreign policy. Washington will regain leadership of the Western world and consolidate it once again in the name of democracy. The United States and its allies will deal with the principal challenge of authoritarianism, represented by China’s ambitions and Russia’s disruptive behavior.

Heather Cox Richardson, 26 January: Today, Biden and Putin spoke for the first time, and the readout indicates that the equation of the last four years has changed. The leaders talked of extending nuclear and arms control treaties. Then Biden reaffirmed U.S. support for Ukraine and called out the recent Russian hack on U.S. businesses and government departments, the reports of Russian bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, Navalny’s poisoning, and interference in the 2020 U.S. election. According to the readout, “President Biden made clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of its national interests in response to actions by Russia that harm us or our allies.”

21 January
Biden administration to seek five-year extension on key nuclear arms treaty in first foray with Russia
President Biden is seeking a five-year extension with Russia on the only remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals just days before it expires, said two senior U.S. officials.
At the same time, his administration is preparing to impose new costs on Russia pending a newly requested intelligence assessment of its recent activities. The officials said Biden is ruling out a “reset” in bilateral relations with Moscow as many new U.S. presidents have done since the end of the Cold War.
“As we work with Russia, so, too, will we work to hold Russia accountable for their reckless and aggressive actions that we’ve seen in recent months and years,” said a senior U.S. official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive security matter.

19 January
Romney calls for Senate to pass sanctions on Putin over Navalny poisoning
The Utah senator co-sponsored legislation with Sens. Chris van Hollen (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) that would sanction Kremlin officials allegedly involved in Navalny’s poisoning with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.

How to Contain Putin’s Russia
A Strategy for Countering a Rising Revisionist Power
(Foreign Affairs) After President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20, some elements of U.S. policy toward Russia will change immediately. No longer will the president of the United States seek to befriend Russian President Vladimir Putin, as President Donald Trump did throughout his tenure. Biden will not hesitate to criticize Putin’s belligerent actions, especially those directed at the United States. The Biden administration will also incorporate liberal norms and democratic values back into the United States’ Russia policy, so Putin can expect more criticism of Russian autocracy and more support for human rights. And the White House’s rhetoric about the United States’ transatlantic allies will shift markedly; the era of berating NATO will end this week.
That’s the easy and expected stuff. The harder task will be to develop a new, comprehensive Russia strategy that strikes the right balance between containing Moscow and engaging it in narrow areas of shared interest.
To get there, the Biden administration will need to shed myths and misperceptions that for years have hampered U.S. analysis of Moscow and to replace them with an accurate assessment of what sort of threat Putin’s Russia really poses and how the United States can effectively counter it.


11 December
How to Safely Russian Great-Power Competition Foreign and Security Policy
Dmitri Trenin, Thomas Graham
(Carnegie Moscow Center) While the U.S.-Russian confrontation will continue, the start of the Joe Biden administration in January will provide an opportunity for both Washington and Moscow to reimagine their relationship. The new White House team might not consider Russia a top priority, and the Kremlin might only expect more doom and gloom. But neither capital is served well by deteriorating relations, which raise the risk of a military collision between the world’s two leading nuclear powers to a dangerous level. Defusing tensions will require the two sides to reach a modicum of agreement on the stakes, the nature of their relationship, and appropriate ways to engage—with neither side compromising its fundamental principles or core interests. It’s a tall order if ever there was one.
Although each side is convinced the other is in decline, the hard truth is that neither country is about to go away, and the two cannot avoid bumping into one another on numerous critical issues across the globe. Russia and the United States remain by far the world’s two leading nuclear states, each with the power to end civilization as we know it. They are the two countries with the largest natural endowments, better positioned to survive extreme global disorder because they can pretend to something close to self-sufficiency. And, although China is rising to their level, they remain the only two powers—by virtue of geographical location or strategic reach—that can impact the entire territory of the Eurasian supercontinent that along with North America constitutes the core of the modern world. In light of this, Moscow and Washington—despite all their differences—need to develop a working relationship.

13 November
The Kremlin Prepares for a Biden Presidency
By Joshua Yaffa
(The New Yorker) Four years ago, dozens of deputies in Russia’s parliament greeted the news of Donald Trump’s surprise victory over Hillary Clinton with a round of applause. A few popped a bottle of champagne together. The head of RT, the state-funded television network, said she was so happy that she felt like driving around Moscow with an American flag in the window of her car. Russia’s political class felt pleased with the result and hopeful that the new American President would prove conciliatory, if not downright advantageous, to Russia’s interests.
This election cycle is a different story. … The story of the Russian political élite’s failed dalliance with Trump is a relatively simple one. “The hope came from the fact that Trump was not a product of America’s traditional political corporation, as you might call it—he was strong-willed, idiosyncratic, a nouveau riche in the political sense,” Andrei Klimov, the deputy chair of the foreign-affairs committee in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, said. “He defeated this corporation and, in so doing, many of its ideas on the wisdom of intervention, a unipolar world, and so on.” Trump represented a transactional style of politics, with little emphasis on things such as multilateral institutions or alliances, let alone values and human rights. What wasn’t the Kremlin to like?
The prospect of Trump as the American President was a welcome turn of fortune, leaving Putin and those around him with a feeling of “hitting the jackpot in a casino,” as Tatiana Stanovaya, the head of the analysis firm R.Politik, put it. “It wasn’t exactly clear what would come of it, but there was a feeling of possibility all the same—that we have to try and use this opportunity.”
Trump acted, as expected, as a destructive force, harming American influence and credibility —a net positive for the Kremlin— but he proved utterly incapable of delivering on anything on the positive side of the ledger. There was no grand deal —as a number of Russian policymakers briefly allowed themselves to imagine— in which relations would improve, Russia would be brought out of the doghouse, and Ukraine-related U.S. sanctions would be lifted. If anything, the lingering questions surrounding Russian interference in 2016 and Trump’s refusal to confront them meant that the President ended up hemmed in politically, forced to go along with increasingly far-reaching sanctions against Russia passed by Congress.
As the years went by, Trump’s short attention span and unpredictable zigzagging made a strategic approach to Russia-U.S. relations impossible. And, when he did act, his mercantile approach to geopolitics led him to favor policies that were opposed to Russia’s interests, as in the case of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which was meant to bring fifty-five billion cubic metres of Russian gas each year to Germany and onward throughout Europe. Trump, like previous U.S. Presidents, pushed Germany and other E.U. states to cancel the energy project; he wagered that Europe would then have no choice but to import American liquified natural gas. “There is not a single person left in the Russian élite who thinks we can achieve anything of substance with Trump as President,” Stanovaya told me.

22-23 September
CIA clamps down on flow of Russia intelligence to White House
Critics of the shift in approach say it seems designed to appease the president.
The heightened scrutiny within the CIA comes as the Justice Department, through prosecutor John Durham, continues to investigate the intelligence community’s findings about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and particularly the conclusion drawn by Russia analysts that Russian President Vladimir Putin interfered specifically to boost Trump’s candidacy rather than just sow chaos.
Trump, who has publicly railed against the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in 2016 to bolster his candidacy, has also been working to bring the intelligence community further under his control since his impeachment acquittal in February. He has installed loyalists in top positions like director of national intelligence and the senior-most intelligence post on the NSC staff.
Heather Cox Richardson: Letters from an American
“We assess that President Vladimir Putin and the senior most Russian officials are aware of and probably directing Russia’s influence operations aimed at denigrating the former U.S. Vice President, supporting the U.S. president and fueling public discord ahead of the U.S. election in November.”
Thus reads the first line of a top-secret CIA assessment, published on August 31 but reported today. The report details how Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, who, according to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Treasury Department is a Russian agent, is disseminating false stories about Democratic nominee Joe Biden through congressmembers, lobbyists, the media, and people close to the president. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani has been openly working with Derkach for several months.
Secret CIA assessment: Putin ‘probably directing’ influence operation to denigrate Biden
(WaPo) Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top aides are “probably directing” a Russian foreign influence operation to interfere in the 2020 presidential election against former vice president Joe Biden, which involves a prominent Ukrainian lawmaker connected to President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top-secret CIA assessment concluded, according to two sources who reviewed it.
On Aug. 31, the CIA published an assessment of Russian efforts to interfere in the November election in an internal, highly classified report called the CIA Worldwide Intelligence Review, the sources said.
… The CIA assessment described Derkach’s efforts in detail and said that his activities have included working through lobbyists, members of Congress and U.S. media organizations to disseminate and amplify his anti-Biden information.

7 August
Russia Continues Interfering in Election to Try to Help Trump, U.S. Intelligence Says
But a new assessment says China would prefer to see the president defeated, though it is not clear Beijing is doing much to meddle in the 2020 campaign to help Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Russia is using a range of techniques to denigrate Joseph R. Biden Jr., American intelligence officials said Friday in their first public assessment that Moscow continues to try to interfere in the 2020 campaign to help President Trump. … The assessment, included in a statement released by William R. Evanina, the director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, suggested the intelligence community was treading carefully, reflecting the political heat generated by previous findings.

12 July
I Was a Counterterrorism Chief. Trump Knew What Russia Was Doing.
Neglecting aggression by Vladimir Putin inevitably invites more of it.
Mr. Trump took no action against Moscow. He could have signaled discontent with Russia diplomatically, economically or through back-channel intelligence conduits. Instead, to make matters worse, he pressured the U.S. intelligence community to invest time and resources in potential counterterrorist cooperation. It backfired: Russia was not forthcoming and sought to manipulate the engagement to influence policymakers and target Russian dissidents.
As any observer of Russia knows, neglecting aggression inevitably invites more of it — to expand Russian influence and power at American expense. For examples, look at Ukraine, Syria and increasingly Libya, Africa and even Europe.
In Afghanistan, the aggression apparently took the form of more audacious Russian behavior like bounties.

2 July
Putin still plays by the ruthless rules of the Cold War. Because Trump lets him.
By Tim Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter who has written histories of the FBI and the CIA, is the author of the forthcoming “The Folly and the Glory: America, Russia, and Political Warfare, 1945-2020.
Active measures’ like spying, hacking and, yes, proxy armies, are a feature of the Russian president’s grand strategy to weaken the U.S.
(WaPo) Vladimir Putin clearly swears by a maxim attributed to Lenin: “Probe with bayonets. If you encounter mush, proceed; if you encounter steel, withdraw,” writes Tim Weiner. He has met his enemy and encountered mush, and so he strives to advance his authoritarian agenda throughout the world, in every nation where President Trump no longer cares to defend American interests — including, ultimately, America.
The bounty program, according to the New York Times, the first to report on it, was run by Unit 29155, one of Putin’s favorite political-warfare weapons, a team inside the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service. Its members have included Afghan war veterans. It has tried to assassinate Putin’s enemies abroad, notably executing a nerve-agent attack on a GRU defector in Britain. Another GRU team ran the 2016 election hack designed to put Trump in the White House. Two years before, in a brazen assault on Ukraine, the GRU’s cyberattacks allowed Putin to annex the Crimean Peninsula without firing a shot. As you read this, the GRU and its sister intelligence services in Russia are seeking ways to disrupt the 2020 election, to pour salt into the wounds of American society, to deepen our divisions, all in the hope that the United States might come apart.

1 July
Trump’s New Russia Problem: Unread Intelligence and Missing Strategy
High-level clearance is not required to see that the list of Russian aggressions in recent weeks rivals some of the worst days of the Cold War.
The intelligence finding that Russia was most likely paying a bounty for the lives of American soldiers in Afghanistan has evoked a strange silence from President Trump and his top national security officials. He insists he never saw the intelligence, though it was part of the President’s Daily Brief just days before a peace deal was signed with the Taliban in February. The White House says it was not even appropriate for him to be briefed because the president only sees “verified” intelligence — prompting derision from officials who have spent years working on the daily brief and say it is most valuable when filled with dissenting interpretations and alternative explanations.
… There have been new cyberattacks on Americans working from home to exploit vulnerabilities in their corporate systems and continued concern about new playbooks for Russian actors seeking to influence the November election. Off the coast of Alaska, Russian jets have been testing American air defenses, sending U.S. warplanes scrambling to intercept them.
It is all part of what Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said on Monday was “the latest in a series of escalations from Putin’s regime.”
Yet missing from all this is a strategy for pushing back — old-fashioned deterrence, to pluck a phrase from the depths of the Cold War — that could be employed from Afghanistan to Ukraine, from the deserts of Libya to the vulnerable voter registration rolls in battleground states.
Pentagon report says Russia working with the Taliban and others to expedite US withdrawal from Afghanistan
(CNN) Russia has been actively working with the Taliban and other groups inside Afghanistan in order to expedite the withdrawal of US troops from that country, according to a congressionally mandated Pentagon report released Wednesday.
While the US military has long accused Moscow of maintaining links to the Taliban, the latest Pentagon assessment comes amid ongoing scrutiny about the Trump administration’s response to intelligence indicating that Russian operatives had offered bounties to Taliban linked militants for killing US and UK service members in Afghanistan.
“As of February, the Russian government was working with the central government, regional countries, and the Taliban to gain increased influence in Afghanistan, expedite a U.S. military withdrawal, and address security challenges that might arise from a withdrawal,” the report said, which covers the period of December 2019 to May 2020.

25-30 June
Susan Rice: Why Does Trump Put Russia First?
It’s exceedingly difficult to believe that no one told the president about the intelligence on Russian efforts to harm Americans in Afghanistan.
Trump says no ‘credible’ intel Russia offered Taliban bounty payments to kill Americans
(NBC) In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin and a senior figure inside the Kremlin, denied Russian intelligence officers had offered these bounties.
“You know, maybe I can say it’s a little bit rude but this is 100 percent bulls—,” Peskov said when asked about the U.S. intelligence. “It’s an undiplomatic thing, but it’s bulls—.”
On whether any officials in the U.S. had raised the subject with their Russian counterparts, Peskov said, “As far as I’m concerned none of the American representatives have ever raised this question” with their Russian counterparts through government or diplomatic channels.
Peskov also said that he was unaware of any conversations between the U.S. and Russian militaries because “they have their own dialogue system” that contained “restricted information.
Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says
The Trump administration has been deliberating for months about what to do about a stunning intelligence assessment.
American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

22 June
What Fiona Hill Learned in the White House
The senior fellow at Brookings and expert on modern Russia had hoped to guide the U.S.-Russia relationship. President Trump had other ideas.
Hill did not realize where her real challenges lay: “I know the intrigue in Russia better than the intrigue at home.”


12 December
Trump’s Ukraine Extortion Scheme Was Financed by Russia
By Jonathan Chait
(New York) … federal prosecutors charged yesterday evening that Lev Parnas, an associate of President Trump who represented him in Ukraine, was wired $1 million from a Russian bank account weeks before his arrest. Which is to say, Trump’s Ukraine plot appears to have been financed by Russia.
What did Russia get in return? Quite a bit. Trump attempted to hold up military aid that had been passed by Congress by margins Trump couldn’t block. He has continued to withhold a desperately sought meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, which the Ukrainian president believed would serve as a signal of American support, and give Ukraine leverage against Russia. Instead, Trump met this week in the White House with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov, sending the opposite of the signal Ukraine wanted. Andrew Weiss, a Russia expert at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, tells the New York Times, “The Russians surely arranged the Lavrov visit to capitalize on all of this and to send a message to the Ukrainians that they’re basically on their own now and need to cut the best deal they can since the U.S. backstop is largely inoperative.”
Trump and Pompeo Spoke to Russian Official About U.S. Elections. Did Only One Deliver a Warning?
The visit of Sergey Lavrov to Washington came at a delicate moment in the relationship between President Trump and Russia.
Asked about the recent assertions by Mr. Trump and his allies that Ukraine, a rival neighboring power of Russia, had interfered in 2016, Mr. Lavrov said: “It has nothing to do with us. That is an issue for two sovereign states.”
Officials at American intelligence agencies and Fiona Hill, a Russia expert who recently left Mr. Trump’s National Security Council, have said the idea that Ukraine organized interference in the 2016 election was part of a disinformation campaign started by Russia in early 2017.
…  Mr. Pompeo himself, a stalwart Trump ally, has said in recent weeks that the United States should look into potential interference by Ukraine. But on Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo emphasized an earlier position he had taken, when he was the C.I.A. director: that it was Russia that had run an interference campaign in 2016. “We don’t think there’s any mistake about what really transpired there,” he said.

27 October
Russia: Trump’s Baghdadi Victory Lap Is Nothing But ‘Propaganda’
The Russian Defense Ministry also disputed claims that Russia provided access to U.S. air units entering airspace it controls
(Daily Beast) Kremlin-controlled Russian state media shot down President Trump’s announcement, with headlines that read: “The Russian Defense Ministry does not believe in al-Baghdadi’s liquidation.” Major General Igor Konashenkov scoffed at the changing details of the operation, with Trump adding alleged participants and various countries that supposedly took part in the raid, “each with completely contradictory details,” which Konashenkov said “raises reasonable questions and doubts about [the operation’s] veracity, not to mention success.”
Konashenkov skeptically pointed out that al-Baghdadi was already supposedly “eliminated” multiple times, with such claims being later disproven. In fact, Russia itself, as well as the Assad regime, have falsely claimed to have killed the ISIS leader multiple times.
The Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesman further emphasized that even if al-Baghdadi were to be eliminated, that wouldn’t change facts on the ground in Syria or make any difference with respect to the multiple escaped ISIS fighters.

15 October
Trump Is Being Impeached Because He Keeps Doing What Russia Wants
(New York) Trump is facing impeachment over his campaign to withhold diplomatic recognition and military aid from Ukraine while working covertly in an alliance with pro-Russian political actors in that country. Meanwhile, Trump suddenly and impulsively engineered a U-turn in American policy toward Syria to the direct benefit of Russia and its regional proxies.

29 August
US spies say Trump’s G7 performance suggests he’s either a ‘Russian asset’ or a ‘useful idiot’ for Putin
Trump’s attendance at the G7 summit was peppered with controversy, but none was more notable than his fervent defense of Russia’s military and cyber aggression around the world, and its violation of international law in Ukraine.
(Business Insider) At the summit, Trump aggressively lobbied for Russia to be readmitted into the G7, refused to hold it accountable for violating international law, blamed former President Barack Obama for Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and expressed sympathy for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
One former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was the FBI director, told Insider Trump’s behavior was “directly out of the Putin playbook. We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office.”
A former CIA operative told Insider the evidence is “overwhelming” that Trump is a Russian asset, but another CIA and NSA veteran said it was more likely Trump was currying favor with Putin for future business deals.

2 August
McConnell’s new posture toward Moscow
By Dana Milbank
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the Senate floor Monday, denounced critics (including me) who say his recent blocking of efforts to fortify defenses against another Russian attack on U.S. elections are aiding and abetting Vladimir Putin.
“For decades, I have used my Senate seat to stand up to Russia,” the Kentucky Republican protested.
Unfortunately for McConnell, two days later came a reminder that he has taken a rather different posture toward Russia of late. Indeed, it appears, he has been key to helping Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin skirt U.S. sanctions and invest in an aluminum mill in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky.
Citing Senate lobbying disclosures, Politico reported Wednesday that two former McConnell staffers had signed on as lobbyists for the Braidy Industries mill, which is 40 percent owned by Russian aluminum giant Rusal. That company has long been controlled by Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch who, the United States alleges, has said “he does not separate himself from the Russian state.” Braidy also hired a PR firm founded by yet another former McConnell aide, the outlet reported Friday.
…McConnell himself had championed the oligarchs’ cause before. After the Trump administration last year exempted Deripaska-related enterprises from sanctions, a bipartisan rebellion attempted to reinstate the sanctions (House Republicans joined Democrats in a 362-to-53 vote), but McConnell led a successful effort in the Senate to thwart the rebellion, which he called a “political stunt.” (In exchange for sanctions relief, Deripaska agreed to reduce his ownership in Rusal’s parent company, but Deripaska could retain de facto control .) Three months later, the Russian aluminum giant announced its $200 million investment in Kentucky. McConnell declared in May that his vote to exempt Deripaska enterprises from sanctions was “completely unrelated.”

6 June
Kremlin Rejects US Suggestions That Russian Military Personnel Are Pulling out of Venezuela
(Eurasia Daily Monitor) Until now, despite Russia’s poor relationship with the US and the abundance of anti-American state propaganda, Russian officialdom has avoided calling Trump names, instead portraying him as the only honorable person in Washington, DC. The executive secretary of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Sergei Lebedev, recently told a session of the CIS Defense Ministers’ Council, in the Black Sea resort city of Anapa, “Regional and global security order is collapsing because of US and NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] pushing to expand their sphere of influence and domination.” According to Lebedev, there is a distinct threat of war beginning in Venezuela and in the Gulf with Iran (Militarynews.ru, June 5).

16 May
Putin and Lavrov Rebuff Pompeo’s Overtures in Sochi
(Eurasia Daily Monitor) The US is in a trade war with China and a standoff with Iran, which may escalate into possible military clashes with Iranian or pro-Iranian proxy forces. The Venezuelan crisis may deteriorate into armed violence that could require a US military response. If the Venezuelan and Iranian crises begin to escalate simultaneously, the US and its military would be torn between two conflicts putting strain on Washington’s ability to act decisively. In these circumstances, attempting to make a deal with Russia looks logical: Moscow may terminate its support for Nicolás Maduro in Caracas and also put pressure on Havana to do the same. A swift collapse of the Maduro regime could then theoretically begin a period of democratic reconstruction and recovery of the Venezuelan oil industry, which, in turn, might help balance the global oil market if armed skirmishes break out in the Gulf and disrupt the flow of this strategic energy resource to international customers. In Syria, pro-Iranian proxies may attack US or allied forces, and the reaction of locally deployed Russian forces, or lack thereof, would also be of critical strategic importance. To facilitate a possible US-Russian deal, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo recently went into shuttle diplomacy mode, first meeting Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 6, in Finland, and then traveling to Sochi, Russia, on May 14 for more talks with his counterpart. Even more importantly, Pompeo’s visit to Russia’s “southern capital” held hope for direct engagement with Putin to figure out the likelihood of a deal and the possibility of a future Trump-Putin summit (Kommersant, May 13).
Moscow will resist by all means any attempts to oust Maduro or US efforts to strangulate Iran by sanctions or military pressure. Russia will also resist US intentions to drive a “wedge” between Moscow and Beijing on key issues. Indeed, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Sochi a day before Pompeo to meet with Putin and Lavrov. Both parties used the occasion to jointly denounce Washington and its policies (Kommersant, May 14). Russia will do its best to humiliate the United States and undermine the latter country’s credibility in order to further strain Western alliances and isolate the US as much as possible. In the future, as Putin has indicated, the time may come for substantive negotiations, when the US is already significantly weakened and after Russia has increased its military power by deploying new superweapons (see EDM, March 8, 15, 2018).

14 May
Pompeo came to Putin seeking to reset U.S. ties. They could only agree that many issues stand in the way.
“There are places that our two countries can find where we can be cooperative, we can be productive, we can be accumulative, we can work together to make each of our two peoples more successful and frankly the world more successful, too,” Pompeo told Putin at the start of their meeting. “President Trump wants to do everything we can.”
On Iran, Venezuela, and Russian interference in U.S. elections, Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voiced sharp disagreement at a joint news conference. Still, Pompeo’s first trip to Russia as secretary of state represented a remarkable new attempt by the Trump administration to find fresh footing in its most politically treacherous international relationship.
With global tensions rising over Iran — a Russian ally — Lavrov said Russia was prepared to do what it could to avoid “a war scenario.” The United States has warned of an increasing threat from Iran and has dispatched additional forces to the region.
Some commentators and politicians in Moscow have voiced hope that with the end of the Mueller investigation, Trump may be in a better position to make good on his stated desire to improve relations with Russia. But others caution that even if Trump were to have more room to maneuver at home, the interests of the two countries continue to diverge around the world.
“The domestic political atmosphere in the United States might seem to have become more favorable,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, a Russian international affairs analyst who has advised the Kremlin. “But in terms of foreign policy, things just keep getting worse.” (Trump orders staff to prepare arms-control push with Russia and China 25 April)

5 May
Putin Is Ready to Give Up Venezuela for the Right Price
Sergei Lavrov and Mike Pompeo will soon meet in Helsinki to discuss Venezuela’s future.
By Vladimir Frolov
(Moscow Times) Last week, Russia and Cuba may have thwarted a U.S. backed plot to engineer a peaceful transfer of power from Nicolas Maduro to a transitional government led by interim president Juan Guaido and Venezuela’s top officials, including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and Supreme Court Chief Justice Maikel Moreno.
On May 3, U.S. President Donald Trump called Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to flag American concerns over Russia’s “disruptive role” in Venezuela and stress his country’s determination to ensure Venezuela’s return to democratic rule.
But, as common in his personal interactions with Putin, Trump quickly lost the initiative, allowing the discussion on Venezuela to drift towards the softer subject of humanitarian aid.
Putin expressed Russia’s displeasure with U.S interference in Venezuela while convincing Trump that he “was not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela”.
…the U.S.-Russia geopolitical stand-off in Venezuela now threatens to derail the few remaining cooperative lanes in the relationship. White House national security advisor John Bolton made it clear on May 1: “This is our hemisphere — it’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering”. Three weeks ago, the same point, in even more forceful terms, was privately made by Fiona Hill, NSC Senior Director for Europe, Russia and Eurasia during her visit to Moscow
The Kremlin was struck by Hill’s prioritization of Venezuela as the most important issue in the relationship due to its direct impact on U.S. politics and the 2020 presidential race in Florida. Moscow concluded then it found an issue it could use to force the U.S. to grant concession elsewhere, most notably in Ukraine.
For Moscow, a deal of equals on Venezuela where Russia helps the U.S. diffuse the crisis by engineering a constitutional transition, should involve an equally significant concession by the U.S. (on a par with JFK-Khrushchev deal to remove nuclear missiles from Cuba and Turkey) to pressure Kiev into fully implementing the Minsk-2 agreements that would truncate Ukraine’s sovereignty and allow Moscow to retain some degree of control over Kiev’s security policies.

Russia Claims Trump Reached Out to Putin for Lengthy Friday Call
By Matt Stieb
(New York) On Sunday, the Russian Embassy stated on Facebook that the hour and a half conversation between the two leaders was initiated by President Trump, who called to discuss “a shared commitment to step up dialogue in various areas, including on issues of strategic ability.” That diplomatic pablum breaks down to a conversation in which foreign-policy expert Donald Trump took the advice of traditional American ally Vladimir Putin on the crises of North Korea and Venezuela.
Assuming the Russian Embassy’s information is true, it now appears that the president is actively seeking out the advice of Putin, preferring the word of the autocrat to that of his own intelligence community and their briefs that he doesn’t read.

21 February
Putin to U.S.: I’m ready for another Cuban Missile-style crisis if you want one
(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is militarily ready for a Cuban Missile-style crisis if the United States wanted one and threatened to place hypersonic nuclear missiles on ships or submarines near U.S. territorial waters.
… tensions are rising again over Russian fears that the United States might deploy intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe, as a landmark Cold War-era arms-control treaty unravels.
Putin’s comments, made to Russian media late on Wednesday, follow his warning that Moscow will match any U.S. move to deploy new missiles closer to Russia by stationing its own missiles closer to the United States or by deploying faster missiles or both.
Putin detailed his warning for the first time, saying Russia could deploy hypersonic missiles on ships and submarines which could lurk outside U.S. territorial waters if Washington now moved to deploy intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe.
The INF pact bans Russia and the United States from stationing short- and intermediate-range land-based missiles in Europe. Washington announced on Feb. 1 it will withdraw from the treaty in six months unless Moscow ends its alleged violations.
Analyst Kingston Reif of the Arms Control Association think tank said Putin may be seeking to signal that Russia can keep up with the United States, to distract from its internal problems or to deflect blame for the parlous state of the INF treaty.

The Trump-Russia Investigation and the Mafia State
By Masha Gessen
(The New Yorker) It’s been a strange two and a half years. From the first allegations, in July, 2016, of Russian meddling in the U.S. election campaign to the arrest of President Donald Trump’s former adviser Roger Stone last week, many of us who write about Russia professionally, or who are Russian, have struggled to square what we know with the emerging narrative. In this story, Russia waged a sophisticated and audacious operation to subvert American elections and install a President of its choice—it pulled off a coup. Tell that to your average American liberal, and you’ll get a nod of recognition. Tell it to your average Russian liberal (admittedly a much smaller category), and you’ll get uproarious laughter. Russians know that their state lacks the competence to mount a sophisticated sabotage effort, that the Kremlin was even more surprised by Trump’s election than was the candidate himself, and that Russian-American relations are at their most dysfunctional since the height of the Cold War. And yet the indictments keep coming.
I’ve figured out how to think about what we know and not go crazy. The answer lies in the concept of the Mafia state. … What we are observing is not most accurately described as the subversion of American democracy by a hostile power. Instead, it is an attempt at state capture by an international crime syndicate. What unites Yanukovych, Veselnitskaya, Manafort, Stone, WikiLeaks’s Julian Assange, the Russian troll factory, the Trump campaign staffer George Papadopoulos and his partners in crime, the “Professor” (whose academic credentials are in doubt), and the “Female Russian National” (who appears to have fraudulently presented herself as Putin’s niece) is that they are all crooks and frauds. This is not a moral assessment, or an attempt to downplay their importance. It is an attempt to stop talking in terms of states and geopolitics and begin looking at Mafias and profits.
The Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar, who created the concept of the “post-Communist mafia state,” has just finished editing a new collection of articles called “Stubborn Structures: Reconceptualizing Post-Communist Regimes”. In one of his own pieces in the collection, using Russia as an example, Magyar describes the Mafia state as one run by a “patron” and his “court”—put another way, the boss and his clan—who appropriate public resources and the institutions of the state for their private use and profit. … he told me that Trump is “like a Mafia boss without a Mafia. Trump cannot transform the United States into a Mafia state, of course, but he still acts like a Mafia boss.” Putin, on the other hand, “is a Mafia boss with a real Mafia, which has turned the whole state into a criminal state.” Still, he said, “the behavior at the top is the same.”
Most of what Trump has given the Russian state has come through inaction: he has barely reacted to continued Russian aggression in Ukraine; he has failed to support NATO; and he has said that the U.S. will withdraw from Syria, although it looks like the withdrawal is unlikely to be fast or total. At the same time, diplomatic relations between Russia and the U.S. have deteriorated to the point of near-total dysfunction, and, despite considerable foot-dragging by the White House, the U.S. has continued to impose new sanctions on Russia.
By the metrics of a Mafia state, though, the Trump Presidency has yielded great results for Russia. A Mafia boss craves respect, loyalty, and perceived power. Trump’s deference to Putin and the widespread public perception of Putin’s influence over Trump have lifted Putin’s stature beyond what I suspect could have been his wildest dreams. (31 January 2019)

27 January
Treasury Dept. Lifts Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Companies
(NYT) The Treasury Department had announced the sanctions against Mr. Deripaska, six other oligarchs and their companies in April as retaliation for Russia’s “malign activity” around the world.
Most of the sanctions went into effect, including against Mr. Deripaska personally. But their implementation was repeatedly delayed against Mr. Deripaska’s giant aluminum company, Rusal, as well as two linked firms, including EN+, the holding company that owned much of Rusal. The companies financed a sophisticated legal and lobbying campaign arguing that the sanctions would disrupt the aluminum market and damage companies in the United States and allied countries.

15 January
Republicans Break Ranks Over Move to Lift Sanctions on Russian Oligarch’s Firms

One Comment on "U.S. – Russia relations 2019-August 2021"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson July 4, 2020 at 12:45 pm ·

    On Syria, I guess one could say that Russia “was handed Syria” by US distancing from the problem. But Russia’s main motivation – and significant contribution, frankly – was to stop the caliphate from taking over Syria (and providing them disastrously with an actual state) by providing close air to ground tactical support for depleted Syrian and Hezbollah fighters, that turned the tide against ISIS. It has indeed enhanced Russian stature in the area, but the Russian public overall does not seem very enthused about what is viewed as an expensive over-extension. So, Russia’s a bit like the dog who caught the bus. They really don’t know what to do about the Syria they’ve caught and its leader for whom they have zero affection. I suspect that for all the anti-US static coming out of Russia, what they really want is a US counterpart/rival they can respect, that respects them and thereby awards the world-class status they miss. JK

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