Updated October 6, 2018
This morning, the Justice Department indicted seven Russian intelligence officers for cyberattacks meant to interfere with a United States investigation into doping allegations. It’s the latest in a string of indictments and sanctions targeting Russian entities, which are meant to dissuade Russia from interfering in and undermining American democracy.
Most of the counter-Russia actions taken by the United States, however, have happened without vocal support from President Donald Trump. “The president remains separate, and refuses to acknowledge publicly that we are at war with Russia,” said Samantha Vinograd, a former Obama administration official who is now a senior adviser at the University of Delaware’s Biden Institute. At a panel at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, the gulf between Trump’s statements and his administration’s actions took center stage.
“You have to bet that Russian bots and trolls are working overtime every time they see this disconnect,” said Vinograd*. “We’ve seen this in North Korea as well. Everyone’s catching on.”
Not only has Trump not been publicly supportive of congressional sanctions—he called one set “seriously flawed” and pushed to weaken them—but he has also voiced consistent approval of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Without vigorous support from the executive branch, the United States hasn’t taken the offensive role against Russian attacks that it would have under previous administrations, said Seth Jones, the chair of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and that’s had global implications. “Moscow has displaced Washington as the major power in the Middle East right now,” he said. “If you took a nap, slept for the last couple years, and woke up, it’d be stunning to see that development.”