Despite President Donald Trump’s national-security advisers’ note reminding him “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” Russian President Vladimir Putin on his election victory during their call on March 20, 2018, Trump did anyway.
When asked whether Trump thought Putin’s election victory was free and fair during a press briefing that day, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders demurred.
“We’re focused on our elections,” she said. “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate.”
During another press briefing in February 2018, Sanders argued Trump had been “tougher on Russia in the first year than [former President Barack] Obama was in eight years combined.”
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This argument has become a frequent line of defense Trump officials have used when pressed about the administration’s complicated relationship with Russia.
Trump, whose response to the US intelligence community’s assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election has been lukewarm at best, is often perceived as being hesitant to confront the Kremlin’s aggression.
But the Trump administration has actually taken some concrete actions against Russia. Here are five examples:
On March 15, the Trump administration announced new sanctions on Russia for its attempts to interfere in the 2016 US election.
The sanctions were scheduled to be implemented early 2018, but Trump backed down, arguing that the sanctions bill he signed August 2017 was already working as a deterrent against Russia.
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Trump originally signed the sanctions bill — officially called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act — August 2017, albeit begrudgingly.
The sanctions bill also imposes a wide range of sanctions on North Korea and Iran.
2. Closing of diplomatic facilities
After Congress approved Russia-related sanctions summer 2017, Russia expelled 755 American diplomats from the country.
In response, the Trump administration ordered Russia to close three of its diplomatic facilities in the US, including its consulate in San Francisco and two annexes in Washington, DC and New York City.
3. Arms sale to Ukraine
In December 2017, Trump announced his support for the sale of lethal munitions to the Ukrainian government in its fight against Russian-backed separatists in the country’s Donbas region, a move that angered Russia, which has been engaged in a hybrid war in the region for the past four years.
The State Department officially approved $47 million weapons sale in early March 2018. It included Javelin launchers and anti-tank missiles.
4. Condemnation of nerve agent attack in the UK
On March 4, 2018, Russian dissident Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, suffered from a nerve agent attack. The father and daughter are living in London.
The US, the UK, France, and Germany all blamed Russia for the attack.
Although Trump initially failed to deliver a forceful condemnation of Russia for the attack, other officials in his administration picked up the slack.
“Over the past four years, Russia has engaged in a campaign of coercion and violence, targeting anyone opposed to its attempted annexation,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
“We stand behind those courageous individuals who continue to speak out about these abuses and we call on Russia to cease its attempts to quell fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and religion or belief.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the attack “clearly came from Russia” and US Ambassador to the US Nikki Haley said the US stood in “absolute solidarity” with the UK after the attack.
A full day after the UK blamed Russia, Trump told reporters that “as soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be.” Referring to the UK’s findings, he added, “It sounds to me like they believe it was Russia, and I would certainly take that finding as fact.”
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National-security experts were baffled and alarmed by Trump’s delayed reaction to the chemical attack.
Trump then joined a statement with UK Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreeing that there was “no plausible alternative explanation” than that Russia was to blame for the attack.
5. Trump officials repeatedly criticize Moscow
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley have been particularly critical of Russia.
On March 7, 2018, Nauert condemned Russia in a tweet, saying that it ignored a UN ceasefire agreement in Syria by bombing civilians in Damascus and Eastern Ghouta.
Her criticism elicited a direct response from Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), which told Nauert to “calm down.”
“Your propaganda machine is out of control — you’re spamming all of us,” the MFA added.
In January 2018, Nauert condemned Russia for supporting separatists in the country of Georgia. Trump recently promoted her to undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Haley has also been critical of Russia over a variety of issues, including Moscow’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria and the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine.