Rus­sia sours on Trump af­ter can­cel­la­tion of talks with Putin

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD - BY ILYA ARKHIPOV AND HENRY MEYER An­drey Kor­tunov,

MOSCOW — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may have stood up Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin once too of­ten. Af­ter Trump snubbed the Krem­lin leader twice in less than a month, Rus­sia is 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 de­ci­sion-mak­ing 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 RTD Weather Desk ................. Page B3 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 to meet in Buenos Aires fol­lowed can­celed talks be­tween Trump and Putin in Paris on Nov. 11. It was the third such sit­u­a­tion 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 has left it­self with lit­tle

“This is a sig­nal for us that it’s dif­fi­cult to deal with this per­son. ... Rus­sian pa­tience is com­ing to an end.”

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,” said Krem­lin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. 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 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.

Even as Congress and the White House ratch­eted up sanc­tions over the past few months, 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.

Putin also de­fended Trump af­ter the U.S. pres­i­dent pro­voked a back­lash at home by sid­ing with Putin against the con­clu­sions of U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies that Rus­sia did med­dle in the 2016 U.S. elec­tions.

Al­though Rus­sian of­fi­cials pre­vi­ously ex­pressed “un­der­stand­ing” of Trump’s po­lit­i­cal dif­fi­cul­ties amid U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tions into med­dling, they openly cast doubt on him re­cently. The pres­i­dent blamed Rus­sia’s naval clash with Ukraine near Crimea for the G-20 can­cel­la­tion.

Rus­sian state tele­vi­sion, which for­merly lauded Trump, now heaped ridicule on him.

“What kind of a man is this? First he says it will hap­pen, then it won’t,” said Evgeny Popov, host of the prime-time “60 Min­utes” news pro­gram. “This is just stu­pid­ity. He seems to be an un­bal­anced in­di­vid­ual. Trump was never our friend — never!”

“It’s far worse than it would have been un­der Clin­ton,” said Frants Klint­se­vich, a sen­a­tor who sits on the govern­ing coun­cil of the rul­ing United Rus­sia party. “She’s an ex­pe­ri­enced politi­cian and any of her ac­tions would have been based on logic and some kind of dis­cus­sion. Here we’re see­ing huge swings in one di­rec­tion and an­other.”

Al­though Trump has con­tin­ued to sig­nal an in­ter­est in bet­ter ties, he’s done so with less fre­quency pub­licly and his top aides have been quick to crit­i­cize Rus­sian ac­tions.

For in­stance, dur­ing an emer­gency meet­ing of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, U.S. Am­bas­sador Nikki Haley called the at­tack on Ukrainian ships a reck­less and “out­law” ac­tion.

Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo called it a “dan­ger­ous es­ca­la­tion and a vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin (left) shook hands with Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping on Satur­day at the Group of 20 sum­mit in Buenos Aires, Ar­gentina.

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