“I don’t love, I don’t hate. We’ll see how it works. We’ll see. Maybe we’ll have a good relationship. Maybe we’ll have a horrible relationship. Maybe we’ll have a relationship right in the middle”.
These words, offered up by then-candidate Donald Trump, were spoken a month before he would go on to win the presidency in 2016 – but they still (now almost five years later) perfectly encapsulate how hot and cold this relationship between two prominent world leaders was.
Though it’s likely going to be a long time coming before we know a lot more about the kind of relationship President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had with one another, there’s no denying that this relationship was anything but smooth sailing or business as usual between these two leaders.
Understanding this relationship ultimately may never be possible, but everyone – including the two principles involved – would undoubtedly describe it as a love-hate kind of situation.
Tough on Russia
Though some in the media portrayed former President Trump as 100% soft on Russia, some even going so far as to say that he was “in Putin’s pocket,” there is a lot of evidence that the Trump administration was more than willing to get tough on Russia when needed.
According to the Brookings Institute, the Trump administration took 52 total policy actions against Russia over four years.
In the still-young Trump administration on August 2, 2017, the then president signed legislation called the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. This set of laws pressed even harder sanctions on the Russians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans.
Before the end of 2017, the Trump administration also identified Russia and China as the biggest adversaries to the United States. A day later, the Department of Commerce and it down significant export restrictions. One day after that, 52 Russian citizens and organizations were sanctioned further by this admin.
Over the next four years, President Trump would further sanction the Russians over their occupation of Crimea, attack and kill Russian private military contractors working with Syrian forces in that nation, and indict several Russians for election meddling and cyber-attacks.
Among other things, the administration also expelled 48 Russian intelligence officers. In addition, it closed the Russian consulate in Seattle as a direct response to the Russian poisoning of Sergei Skripal in the United Kingdom.
Soft on Russia
At the same time, President Trump was not shy about expressing personal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin – a former KGB agent and a dictator in all but name.
Michael Cohen, former personal attorney to the ex-president of the United States, wrote that Trump had a particular soft spot for Vladimir Putin because of the way he ran Russia.
Cohen writes that Trump liked “that Putin ran Russia like it was his company,” appreciating how Putin “took over the entire nation.”
Cohen also stated that once Trump learned about the personal distaste that the Russian President had for his main political rival, Hillary Clinton, he grew to admire the man even more so.
For his part, Michael Cohen writes in his book that while there was no outright collusion between the Trump campaign people and Vladimir Putin in 2016 it was more of a “confluence of shared interests in harming Hillary Clinton in any way possible”.
At the end of the day, like so much of the Trump Administration, it can be a little difficult to make heads or tails of things – especially with history being so fresh.
However, what’s very obvious is that this administration was not shy about being both very strong when it came to handling Russia while at the same time deferring to them – sometimes puzzling the nation, other international leaders, and the world at large.