Donald Trump may now gush that Russia is doing “great things,” but as recently as 2014 he called the nation America’s “biggest problem.”
Trump also suggested imposing tough economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its February invasion of the Crimea that year. He disdainfully scoffed at the media for failing to take the threat of Russia seriously. He also characterized Russian President Vladimir Putin as untrustworthy and a liar. Speaking about the nation’s incursion into Crimea, Trump said that Russia had vowed “we will not go into Ukraine, we will not do that, it will never happen. Twenty minutes later they went in.” He acknowledged that Putin is “rebuilding the Russian empire. That’s his thing.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last Friday, the president-elect said he would consider dropping those sanctions — despite findings by the U.S. intelligence community that Putin ordered U.S. internet hacking to manipulate the presidential election — as long as Russia is “doing great things.” Trump didn’t specify what great things he was referring to. “If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?”
He also said in an interview published Sunday in The Times of London that he would drop the sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in exchange for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Putin.
But CNN reported that Trump lashed out at Russia in two phone interviews in March 2014 on “Fox and Friends” and in another interview on NBC.
In the interviews, Trump agreed with former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s assessment that Russia was a key geopolitical foe. “Well, Mitt was right, and he was also right when he mentioned in the debates [that] Russia’s our biggest problem, and Russia is, you know, really something,” Trump told Fox.
“He said it’s a hell of a problem, and everybody laughed at him, including certain media, by the way,” Trump added. “They laughed. It turned out that he’s absolutely right.” Trump mentioned Russian activity in Iran and Syria (”Syria’s now 100 percent back in their fold”), and “virtually every other place,” adding: “To be scoffed at and thrown around the way we’re being thrown around is absolutely unthinkable.”
He also said on NBC’s “Today” show that “we should definitely do sanctions” against Russia and complained that President Barack Obama wasn’t taking a hard enough line with Russia. “We have to show some strength,” he added.
Other than sanctions, however, it was unclear what kind of action Trump was calling for. He said America had to focus on fixing its own problems before taking on any foreign confrontations. He said on Fox on March 3, 2014, that his big concern was that Obama would do “something really stupid to show that he’s all man,” possibly referring to engaging in a war with Russia.
The comments were made before Trump threw his hat into the ring to become the Republican pick for president. But the beginnings of his puzzling regard for former KGB leader Putin were already evident. Putin’s “poll ratings are through the roof. The people love him. They love what he’s doing,” Trump noted in the March 24, 2014, Fox interview, though, bizarrely, he also indicated that the poll numbers probably were not trustworthy.
He also praised Putin as a “smart, calculating guy,” in the March 3 Fox interview. “We’re talking about a different league of I don’t know if it’s street smarts or intelligence or whatever.”
There was no immediate response from the president-elect’s team on Trump’s change of heart on Russia.
It’s hardly the first time Trump has experienced a whipsaw opinion switch. After actress Meryl Streep criticized Trump in her Golden Globes speech Jan. 8, the president-elect blasted her as “over-rated,” though a year earlier he’d called her an “excellent” actress and one of his favorites.
He also called for the death penalty for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2010, but then two weeks ago touted Assange’s opinion concerning Russian hacking of the U.S. internet over his nation’s intelligence leaders.