The Evolution of Trump's Views on Russia


Now that Donald Trump is all but assured the Republican nomination, the recent exchanges between Putin and Trump deserve more attention. No other candidate has so directly discussed his/her views of Putin, and certainly Russian president has not shared his views on any other candidate but Mr. Trump.

In December of 2015, Putin held a press conference and in response to one of the questions he indicated, "He (Trump) is a bright and talented person without any doubt....adding "he is an outstanding personality ." CNN reported Trump returned the compliment, "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond...I have always felt that Russia and the United States should be able to work well with each other towards defeating terrorism and restoring world peace, not to mention trade and all of the other benefits derived from mutual respect." During his recent MSNBC's Morning Joe interview, Trump further complimented Putin comparing him favorably to President Obama, "He's running his country, and at least he's a leader, you know, unlike what we have in this country."

Trump made his long awaited foreign policy speech in April, most critics in the United States attacked it, however it was well received by Russian officials. Alexy Pushkov, the head of the foreign relations committee of he Russian Parliament favored the speech, stating that Trump, "expresses readiness to come to terms with the Russian President instead of making conflicts with us, the way today's administration is doing." While it certainly would be better for both countries if the "cold war', that has developed as a result of the conflicts in Ukraine, Crimea, Syria and sanctions in general, was somehow resolved. It is far from clear, that this mutual complimenting will result in better relations between the West and Russia. At least it is possible that there can be dialogue where there hasn't been one. Both Trump and Putin share willingness to be frank and to step beyond political correctness.

But there is a difference. Trump was talking in December as a candidate for the Presidency with three opponents still in the race. In April he still had two other opponents in the race. Perhaps it was his view that to be in a dialogue with the President of Russia would elevate his status and differentiate him from his opponents?

Now that he is the presumptive nominee, his words about Russia are already sounding in a different tone. Recently, Russian aircraft have been, according to the Pentagon, buzzing US ships and warplanes. US insist tha Russian airplanes buzzed American ships and planes in two separate incidents in the Baltic Sea. In the light of these of events Trump is no longer sending his compliments to Russian leadership. On May 5th Trump said if he is elected President, he would "warn Putin not to continue, otherwise he would have to take military action'. Trump said, "If it were me, I would call him and say don't do it. Just stop it". Trump stated that if it was to become necessary he would not hesitate to shoot down Russian planes. While Trump may have scored in the public eye with his readiness to shoot down the planes, there are no military experts who feel that an open attack against Russian military would have been appropriate. In fact, it is verified that some of the Russian planes have been unarmed. Commanders of the ships buzzed have been complimented for showing restraint.

While all concerned, would like relations between Russia and America on better terms, it would be a mistake to think that the "romance" between Putin and Trump will continue, or that Trump is somehow better able to deal with Putin. However, look for Trump to articulate that he is tougher than Hillary Clinton and macho enough to deal with Putin. If there has been one repetitive theme of the Trump candidacy it is - how tough he is, and how he is going to change the current situation of "other countries have taken advantage of America".

Trump's speech, at the time when he was fighting other Republicans for the nomination, regarding Vladimir Putin and how he will be able communicate with Russia with mutual respect, is already different than what he is articulating now. In a short period of time he went from respect to threats. No a good sign. Diplomacy is not based on threats.