“No kidding!” she wrote.
By Thursday afternoon, an enraged Trump tweeted that “the Russians must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election.”
It was remarkably close to the point of view of the Russians, who have long denied they had anything to do with the 2016 election and who were, in fact, loving every minute of this mess. Emerging from an arena tunnel like an MVP, Putin, clad in full hockey gear and ready to play what would obviously be a really hard-fought match with Russian pros, was caught by a carefully placed American reporter who asked Putin what he thought Comey’s firing would mean for U.S.-Russia relations. “There will be no effect,” Putin said, his face tight and grinning. “Your question looks very funny for me. Don't be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and constitution. What about us? Why us?” He clearly took great pleasure in sticking to Russia’s standard line on such things: We don’t know what you guys are doing over there, but boy are we glad to be mature adults above the fray. And then he went off to score seven goals with the confidence of a man whose country is running smoothly.
Predictably, Russian newscasts led with the Trump-Lavrov meeting, followed by Putin’s condescending reply and very successful hockey match. Just one report addressed the firing of Comey, “a known Russophobe.” (By Thursday night, the guests of one of the country’s most popular political talk shows were discussing why a “strong hand” was better for running a country than the chaotic liberal Western model.) But in general the meeting was portrayed as the massive foreign policy coup that it was: The Russians were finally received in the White House, not as pariahs to be berated and lectured, but as respected equals.
As Susan Glasser reported in her excellent piece in Politico, the Russians have been pressing for exactly such a legitimizing visit for years—since 2013—and for years the Obama administration refused to give them one. For the Russians, protocol is policy and such visits—even if just to reciprocate Tillerson’s reception in the Kremlin last month—matter. They show honor, respect, legitimacy. Which is precisely what Obama refused to give them. Why honor the leaders of a country that violated international law by annexing Ukrainian territory and supporting a bloody dictator in Syria? Because Obama withheld such a meeting, the Russians got even more desperate for one, and Putin, sensing an opening, expressly asked for it in last week’s phone call with Trump. As I reported, the Russians had long been hoping for a personal meeting with Trump, a man who is now known for starkly reversing his positions if exposed to in-person pleasantries.