Trump is by no means the only U.S. president who has sought closer relations with Russia. He is following in the footsteps of both Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, whose push for friendlier ties ultimately failed. But Trump, even as a presidential candidate, wanted closer relations with Russia—and a summit meeting with Putin. On Monday, he got it.
“Just meeting with Putin by the U.S. president is not an issue. All U.S. presidents have met with the Russian president,” Polyakova said. “The problem here is that this administration has done this in reverse: Usually there’s a long period of process, of prep work and negotiations … The meeting between the leaders happens last to affirm the negotiating process.”
Unlike U.S. allies, especially those in Europe, Russia is not an economic equal, and, consequently, an economic competitor, to the United States, but it remains a nuclear superpower.
“So I could see—I’m not saying I’m subscribing to this view—from Trump’s perspective, that this is an important relationship that has gone a little bit off the rails … and that he needs to fix it,” Polyakova said. “And, of course, every single U.S. president has come into office thinking he could fix it because of his charisma and persona, and it was … the last guy who got it wrong, and in that way Trump is not that different from Obama, or even Bush.”
Trump said Monday that he and Putin discussed a “wide range of critical issues,” including Russia’s alleged interference, and he bemoaned the poor state of U.S.–Russia relations, which he had blamed earlier in the day on “U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Russia’s Foreign Ministry concurred with that assessment on Twitter, replying: “We agree.”
When asked at the news conference if he believed that Russia played any role in the state of U.S.–Russia relations, Trump replied: “I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish … I think we are all to blame.”
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now,” Trump said at the news conference. “However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.”
Ultimately, though, Trump’s desire for a far friendlier relationship with Putin may run into political reality. While his own words toward Russia and Putin have been warm, his senior-most aides, especially Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, and John Bolton, his national-security adviser, have been skeptical of Russia’s intentions. Then, there is Congress, where there is broad bipartisan support for continued sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine and also, though less bipartisan, its alleged election interference. More significant, however, is just how differently the U.S. and Russia view the world. While they both share common ground on fighting terrorism, the U.S. and Russia have sharp differences on a broad range of other issues. Trump might want closer relations with Putin, but it is as yet unclear why. Monday’s meeting did little to answer that question.