Trump blames everyone except Putin for bad US-Russia ties before Helsinki summit — and it's a huge mistake

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump has blamed policy from the Obama administration for soured US-Russia relations.
  • Trump also preemptively blasted the news media as “the enemy of the people” for what he expects to be negative coverage of his Monday summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
  • Trump, like Obama before him, is making a huge mistake by asking how the US can improve ties with Russia, rather than asking Russia to improve its behaviour.

Just hours before President Donald Trump was to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Trump blamed the special counsel’s Russia investigation as well as US policy under President Barack Obama for souring US-Russia relations – and in doing so he may already be giving Putin a pass.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted, using a favoured term to dismiss the investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia.

In 2009, shortly after taking office, Obama set out to “reset” relations with Russia, despite Moscow’s recent invasion of its neighbour Georgia. Those efforts seemed for naught when, after a few years of cooperation, Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, again using military force.

The US responded with sanctions, but Obama served out the rest of his term refusing to provide lethal weapons to the Western-leaning Ukrainians trying to fight back Russia. Trump has provided lethal aide, but to questionable effect.

Now it’s Trump who is trying to remake US-Russia relations, and he has already preemptively blamed the media for misrepresenting his efforts.

“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people.”

In Helsinki on Monday, Trump and Putin are expected to discuss Syria, Ukraine, nuclear weapons, and other issues without much of a solid agenda.

Absent from Trump’s push to reshape Russia relations is any focus on Russia’s behaviour. As with Obama before him, Trump has asked what the US can do to improve relations with Moscow but not what Moscow can do to improve relations with the US.

On Friday, the special counsel issued indictments providing more evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election in an attack on US democracy. Under Putin, the country has expanded its borders for the first time since the leadership of Josef Stalin. Russia has been accused of sweeping human-rights abuses against gay people and has built nuclear weapons designed to make the earth uninhabitable.

“Every American president, Democrat and Republican alike, comes in thinking that the problem lay with his predecessor, and he will be the one to fix the US-Russia relationship,” Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, previously told Business Insider. “But it never works out because the problem is not with the American side.”

She added: “It’s important to recognise that Putin doesn’t want to build democracy in Russia, and he doesn’t want Russia to move closer to the West – to the contrary, he sees Russia as standing in opposition to Western values.”

In Russia’s pursuit of undermining Western institutions like NATO, democratic elections, and a free press, Trump has proved a reliable ally by consistently and pointedly questioning their validity.

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