Well, that didn’t last long. As President Donald Trump wrapped up his fourth week in office, the romance between him and Russian president Vladimir Putin seemed to have cooled suddenly. The week began with the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn amid revelations that he lied about his phone calls to the Russian ambassador. Then came reports that members of the Trump team had been in repeated contact with Russian intelligence agents. It ended with Vice Admiral Bob Harward declining to replace Flynn, and Trump giving a press conference in which he said his administration is “running like a fine-tuned machine;” toyed aloud with the idea of firing on a Russian spy ship in international waters off the East Coast; and dismissed allegations of collusion between his aides and the Russian government by saying, “Russia is fake news.” It was a performance that raised eyebrows in Moscow, with one Kremlin-friendly paper saying Friday that “you need to be drunk to understand the U.S. president’s true position.”
There was a time when it was Washington that was constantly surprised by an erratic and audacious Moscow doing things like unexpectedly seizing Crimea or sending its forces into Syria. Now, it is the other way around. After a month in the White House, Trump has forced Moscow into the role of the reacting party. “Before Putin was unpredictable, now it’s Trump,” said Masha Lipman, an independent Russian political analyst.