Krem­lin sours on Trump af­ter Putin snubs

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Ilya Arkhipov and Henry Meyer

MOSCOW — Don­ald Trump may have stood up Vladimir Putin once too of­ten. Af­ter the U.S. 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 ap­plause and cham­pagne af­ter his elec­tion in 2016, Trump’s mer­cu­rial de­ci­sion­mak­ing is in­creas­ingly seen as a li­a­bil­ity in Moscow. Rus­sian of­fi­cials were taken aback when Trump tweeted that he was can­cel­ing talks with Putin at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina hours be­fore they were due to meet last week, a de­ci­sion one of them called re­ally bad. Since then, Rus­sian frus­tra­tion has steadily grown, ac­cord­ing to four se­nior of­fi­cials, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied dis­cussing in­ter­nal mat­ters.

“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, a re­search group set up by the Krem­lin. “Rus­sian pa­tience is com­ing to an end.”

The fail­ure in Buenos Aires fol­lowed can­celed talks be­tween Trump and Putin in Paris on Nov. 11. It was the third such dis­ap­point­ment in 12 months, punc­tur­ing lin­ger­ing Rus­sian hopes of a break­through in U.S. re­la­tions nearly two years af­ter Trump took of­fice. 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 U.S. 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’re un­likely to meet again be­fore the next G-20 sum­mit in Japan in June, he said.

The dis­il­lu­sion­ment with Trump may mean Rus­sia takes a harder line in talks with the U.S. on thorny is­sues in­clud­ing arms con­trol, the con­flicts in Ukraine and Syria and the Ira­nian nu­clear ac­cord. It may also re­tal­i­ate against pos­si­ble fu­ture U.S. sanc­tions af­ter Putin held back from tak­ing mea­sures in re­sponse to ear­lier rounds of penal­ties.

The U.S. has ac­cused Rus­sia of re­peat­edly en­gag­ing in “ma­lign be­hav­ior” 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 U.S. 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 U.K. Rus­sia de­nies in­volve­ment in the at­tack.

Even as Congress and the White House ratch­eted up sanc­tions, the Krem­lin worked tire­lessly to em­brace Trump. Putin de­clared at the Hel­sinki sum­mit in July that he’d wanted Trump to win the elec­tion, while in­sist­ing Rus­sia hadn’t in­ter­fered. He also de­fended Trump af­ter the U.S. pres­i­dent pro­voked a back­lash at home by sid­ing with Putin against the con­clu­sions of Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that Rus­sia did med­dle.

While Rus­sian of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously ex­pressed “un­der­stand­ing” of Trump’s po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties amid U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tions into med­dling, this time, they openly cast doubt on him. The pres­i­dent blamed Rus­sia’s naval clash with Ukraine near Crimea for the can­cel­la­tion. His de­ci­sion was an­nounced hours af­ter his for­mer per­sonal lawyer, Michael Co­hen, pleaded guilty to ly­ing to Congress about plans for a Trump real-es­tate in­vest­ment in Moscow.

MIKHAIL METZEL/TASS FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, left, and Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin give a joint news con­fer­ence fol­low­ing their meet­ing at the Pres­i­den­tial Palace in Hel­sinki, Fin­land, on July 16, 2018.

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