Trump doesn’t un­der­stand art of deal­ing with Rus­sia

Cecil Whig - - & - Doyle McManus

— Vladimir Putin must feel as though he’s won the lot­tery.

His gov­ern­ment made a mod­est in­vest­ment in cy­beres­pi­onage against Hil­lary Clin­ton, a can­di­date he roundly dis­liked, and it paid off, big league.

Never mind the flap over whether the Rus­sian pres­i­dent aimed to put Don­ald Trump in the White House; U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies agree unan­i­mously that Rus­sia wanted to dis­rupt the cam­paign — and suc­ceeded. Now the in­com­ing pres­i­dent of the United States says he yearns for a friend­lier re­la­tion­ship with Putin and dis­misses the ev­i­dence of cy­beres­pi­onage as par­ti­san whin­ing.

His nom­i­nee for sec­re­tary

LOS AN­GE­LES

of State, Exxon Mo­bil CEO Rex Tiller­son, is an oil­man who lob­bied the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to re­lax eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia (un­der­stand­ably, be­cause they were cost­ing his com­pany mil­lions) and was awarded the Or­der of Friend­ship by Putin.

“This is a fan­tas­tic team,” Sergei Markov, a Putin ad­viser, told Bloomerg News this week. “These are peo­ple that Rus­sia can do busi­ness with.”

“I’d say Rus­sia has eaten our lunch,” Fiona Hill, a Rus­sia ex­pert at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, told me. “From their stand­point, it sounds as if they’re get­ting a lot of what they want.”

And what does Putin want? Hill ticked off a list:

First, he wants recog­ni­tion as the leader of a great power and a re­sump­tion of sum­mit meet­ings between the two pres­i­dents. Ac­cord­ing to the Krem­lin, Trump has al­ready agreed to a meet­ing.

Sec­ond, NATO: Putin wants the United States to re­duce its mil­i­tary pres­ence in the NATO coun­tries on Rus­sia’s western border, in­clud­ing the three Baltic states. Pres­i­dent Obama has in­creased troop de­ploy­ments there; Trump said he might cut them if NATO coun­tries don’t spend more on de­fense.

Third, Ukraine: Putin wants the West to re­voke the sanc­tions im­posed af­ter his 2014 in­va­sion of Ukraine and to rec­og­nize Rus­sia’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. “We’ll be look­ing at that,” Trump said in July — a non­com­mit­tal an­swer that opened the door to a big con­ces­sion. ( It would be easy, too; the ex­ec­u­tive or­der on sanc­tions comes up for re­newal by the pres­i­dent in March.)

Fourth, Syria: Putin wants the U. S. to sup­port his ef­forts to bol­ster Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad’s cor­rupt, au­to­cratic regime. Trump says he wants a U. S.- Rus­sian- As­sad al­liance to fight jointly against Is­lamic State.

Fifth, mis­sile de­fense: Putin wants the U. S. to can­cel plans for a mis­sile de­fense sys­tem in East­ern Europe, in­clud­ing bases in Ro­ma­nia and Poland. Trump’s po­si­tion on the is­sue isn’t known.

Sixth, iron­i­cally, Rus­sia wants talks about cy­ber­war­fare. “The Rus­sians think we’ve been do­ing it to them all the time,” Hill said. The Rus­sianspon­sored hack­ing of the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee may have be­gun as re­tal­i­a­tion for U. S. cy­beres­pi­onage in Rus­sia, she said. “They’re telling us to knock it off,” she added.

The dan­ger isn’t that Trump will seek a warmer, more co­op­er­a­tive re­la­tion­ship with Rus­sia; that would be a good thing.

But even be­fore his in­au­gu­ra­tion, Trump has al- ready moved the start­ing point of any “re­set” part­way to­ward Putin’s po­si­tion, with noth­ing of­fered in ex­change.

“The Rus­sians would love to get rid of NATO,” Hill noted. “For them, noth­ing could be bet­ter than if the U. S. walks away from it.”

And on hack­ing, “Trump is do­ing the work of the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment for them,” she said. “He’s push­ing back against the CIA, so they don’t have to.”

All this by the guy who wrote “The Art of the Deal.”

Trump has long claimed he will bar­gain more ag­gres­sively than the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, but when it comes to Rus­sia he’s not ne­go­ti­at­ing very hard. In­deed, he’s taken po­si­tions Repub­li­cans would crit­i­cize if he were a Demo­crat.

And some Repub­li­cans are push­ing back. Repub­li­can Se­nate leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he wants a se­ri­ous, bi- par­ti­san in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian hack­ing. Sens. John McCain and Marco Ru­bio and oth­ers said they plan to ques­tion Tiller­son closely be­fore they de­cide how to vote on his nom­i­na­tion.

Their point isn’t to re­lit­i­gate the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion; that’s over. In­stead, they’re warn­ing Trump that he can’t cozy up to Rus­sia with­out cre­at­ing se­ri­ous trou­ble in his own party. It’s to make clear that a for­eign gov­ern­ment can’t med­dle in a U. S. elec­tion with­out penalty, no mat­ter who ben­e­fits.

And it’s to re­mind the pres­i­dent- elect that in high- stakes ne­go­ti­a­tions, a pres­i­dent should rarely give any­thing away for noth­ing — a rule Don­ald Trump, of all peo­ple, ought to en­dorse.

Doyle McManus is a colum­nist for the Los An­ge­les Times. Readers may send him email at doyle. mcmanus@la­times.com

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