Unreliable: Russia sours on Trump
Donald Trump may have stood up Vladimir Putin once too often. After the US president snubbed the Kremlin leader twice in less than a month, Russia is finally losing faith in Trump's promise to improve relations and bracing instead for increased tensions.
Feted by Russian lawmakers with champagne after his election in 2016, Trump's mercurial decision-making is increasingly seen as a liability. Russian officials were taken aback when Trump tweeted he was cancelling talks with Putin at the Group of 20 summit hours before they were to meet last week. Since then, Russian frustration has grown, according to four senior officials, who asked not to be identified.
“This is a signal for us that it's difficult to deal with this person, that he's unreliable and unsuitable as a partner,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, set up by the Kremlin. “Russian patience is coming to an end.”
The failure in Buenos Aires followed cancelled talks between Trump and Putin in Paris on November 11. It was the third such disappointment in 12 months, puncturing lingering Russian hopes of a breakthrough in US relations. As Putin warns of a new arms race over Trump's threat to abandon a landmark nuclear treaty, the Kremlin's left itself with little alternative than to dig in for confrontation over US demands.
While Trump invited Putin to visit Washington at their Helsinki summit, that's now “out of the question”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. They were unlikely to meet again before the next G-20 summit in June, he said.
The disillusionment with Trump may mean Russia takes a harder line in talks on issues including arms control, Ukraine and Syria and the Iranian nuclear accord. It may also retaliate against possible US sanctions.
The US has accused Russia of repeatedly engaging in “malign behaviour” since Trump took office, making it politically difficult for him to work to improve relations even if he wanted to.
Tensions may spike further in coming months if the US decides to impose fresh sanctions over alleged Russian election meddling. The State Department may add penalties under a law invoked after a nerve-agent attack on a former spy in the UK Russia denies involvement.
Even as Congress and the White House ratcheted up sanctions, the Kremlin worked tirelessly to embrace Trump. Putin declared in Helsinki in July that he'd wanted Trump to win the election.
Russian state television, which formerly lauded Trump, now ridicules him. “First he says it will happen, then it won't,” said Evgeny Popov, host of the 60 Minutes news programme. “This is just stupidity, he seems to be an unbalanced individual. Trump was never our friend — never!”
Senior members of the ruling United Russia party even said they regretted Trump's victory.