Thanks to Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin has a reason to smile today.
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Already feuding with America’s closest traditional allies over his unilateral imposition of trade tariffs and efforts to undermine established trade agreements, the American President poured kerosene on the fire he has started as he left for the G-7 summit in Quebec by declaring that Russia should be invited back into the group of the world’s leading economies without paying a price for its illegal actions that led to its ouster.
Russia was suspended from what was then known as the G-8 in 2014 after it invaded Ukraine and annexed Crimea, which it continues to control – the first act of territorial aggression of its kind since World War II.
Putin earlier this week said there are no conditions that will lead Russia to leave Crimea, and “there can never be,” he told Austria’s ORF Broadcasting Corp., according to CNN.
Trump’s call for Russia to return breaks with key allies including the U.K., France, and Germany, which along with the U.S. and others imposed economic sanctions on Russia after its act of aggression against Ukraine.
Since then, Russia has been accused of many other hostile and illegal acts including interfering in elections in Europe and the U.S., something Trump has never acknowledged despite overwhelming evidence of Russia’s improper actions presented to him by U.S. intelligence agencies.
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 8, 2018
British Prime Minister Theresa May told Sky News today that she agrees that it is important to “engage with Russia,” albeit with an important caveat.
“Let’s remember why the G-8 became the G-7. And before discussions could begin on any of this, we would have to ensure Russia is amending its ways and taking a different path,” she said.
Since Russia was expelled, its behavior has only gotten worse, a European diplomat told CNN.
“Since then, we have seen an increase in Russian misbehavior and attempts to undermine democracy in Europe,” said the European diplomat. “It is not appropriate for Russia to rejoin until we see it behaving responsibly. Putin should get nothing for free.”
In the US., Trump’s lack of action in condemning Russia’s interference in the U.S. election and his push to normalize relations with Russia without winning any concessions is once again raising thorny questions about why he is such a friend of Russia and Putin.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is continuing to investigate whether Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election his way, but repeatedly Trump has denied any wrongdoing and calls the probe a “witch hunt.”
On both sides of the aisle in Congress, there is no such equivocation.
“Putin is not our friend and he is not the President’s buddy,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee said in a statement, reports CNN.
“He is a thug using Soviet-style aggression to wage a shadow war against America,” added Sasse, “and our leaders should act like it.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was even harsher in his assessment. He said Trump was turning US foreign policy “into an international joke, doing lasting damage to our country.”
“We need the president to be able to distinguish between our allies and adversaries, and to treat each accordingly,” Schumer said. “On issue after issue, he’s failed to do that.”
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also spoke out against Trump’s suggestion, reports the Washington Post, saying in a statement, “Vladimir Putin chose to make Russia unworthy of membership in the G-8 by invading Ukraine and annexing Crimea. Nothing he has done since then has changed that most obvious fact.”
Trump has said he will have a take it or leave it stance on trade negotiations and is willing to walk away from major agreements, including NAFTA, which continues a disturbing pattern.
“In the past several months,” reports The Washington Post, “Trump has pushed to completely overturn many of the post-World War II institutions put in place to strengthen global ties.”
“These tensions have created immense strain ahead of the summit in Canada, with top leaders questioning if they are in the midst of a transformational disruption brought on by the United States.”
Last year, many world leaders tried to work with Trump and in some cases to befriend him, as was the case with France’s Emannuel Macron, but now the gloves are coming off.
“In recent weeks,” reports The Washington Post, “there have been signs that world leaders have scrapped that approach and now plan to deal with Trump in a more adversarial way.”
All of this delights Putin and the Russians, who want to see the economic and security alliance that has opposed them finally broken up.
On a talk show in Russia yesterday, Putin said that America’s European allies are “getting their comeuppance for showing deference to Washington – and getting a taste of the way the United States has long treated Russia.”
They “probably thought that these counterproductive policies would never affect them,” added Putin. “No one wanted to listen, and no one wanted to do anything to stop these tendencies. here were are.”
Trump plans to leave the G-7 on Saturday morning, which means he will not participate in discussions on climate change, after already pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement.
Now Trump is undermining the economic relationship and threatening the security arrangements that have assured that democracies will stand together against threats from Russia or anyone else.
Trump is a disaster for America but that may be exactly what he and his pal Putin have in mind.