Are Trump and Putin on the outs?

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Trump and Putin share a kiss in Lithuanian mural

You say “tomato,” I say “to-mah-to”; you say “potato,” I say “vodka”…let’s call the whole thing off. So is that it? Is the star-crossed bromance between Trump and Putin over? Can they “still be friends?” With benefits?

After the US missile strike against Syria, Trump says U.S. relations with Russia may be at an all-time low. “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all,” he said during a White House news conference. The Tomahawk strike that targeted the Syrian air base that launched the chemical attack has raised the ire of Russia, who has friendly relations with Syria. Besides wondering if this retaliation against Syria signals a change of heart in the Trump administration toward the Syrian crisis, many are also now wondering, if not outright proclaiming, that the US’s relationship with Russia is now in the shitter. But let’s take a breath and look at the situation from another angle.

It’s well-known that the interactions of Trump and his associates with Russia have been under intense scrutiny. Indeed, a lot of it looks extremely suspicious, giving the liberal left a chance to indulge in some conspiracy theorizing of their own (hey, why let the right-wing nut jobs have all the fun?). Trump’s son Eric Trump, however, states, “If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.” Hmm, does it?

Trump says U.S. relations with Russia “may be at an all-time low,” but he know he says a lot of things that are deceptive or flat-out untrue. And although a theory that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the chemical weapons massacre to help Trump — distracting Americans from an investigation into Trump’s campaign ties to Russia by provoking the missile strike might be a little too close to tin-foil hat territory, it’s not too far out to speculate that US-Russia relations might not be as rocky as advertised. The timing of this sudden reversal in relations makes this look hinky. To wit:

  • Trump has a long history with Russia, Russians and Eastern Europeans.
  • Trump has long praised Putin as a leader.
  • Many of Trump’s associates have deep connections with Russia.
  • Trump et al. come under scrutiny for these connections.

Now, after a single event with which Russia is only peripherally connected, US-Russia relations are “at an all-time low?”

Further complicating things is the fact that the US warned Russia of the impending attack. Of course, the attack was not against Russia – it was against Syria – so it makes some sense that the US would not want any Russian casualties. No Russian lives were lost and there was little if any material damage of Russian assets. Besides questioning how much this strike actually hurt Syria, we should also look at how much this strike hurt Russia. It appears to me very little.

If US-Russia relations are indeed at an all-time low, then we should be able to tell in ways other than from simple statements by Trump and Putin. We should be able to see if there are any substantive repercussions of this strike. As far as I know, there is only one, and that is that Russia will not be sharing flight information over Syria with the US any longer, but that seems like a small punishment.

I would agree that excessive conspiracy theorizing is detrimental to the examination of what is really going on with Trump and Russia, but I think it’s important to point out that some conspiracies have turned out to be more than theoretical. Trump’s news cycle seems to be very fast and the public has a short memory. We need to keep the big picture in mind.

The fact is, Trump was a Putin fanboy up until recently and all of a sudden he’s not. Putin thought Trump was the bee’s knees and all of a sudden he’s not. How much of this is talk and how much of this is substantive, significant degradation of relations? I have yet to see any of that, but I do see a significant effort to separate the perceived Trump-Russia connection.

And even if US-Russia relations are in the shitter, it doesn’t change whatever coziness Trump and his associates had with Russia prior to the missile strike.

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