And yet, even as Trump seems determined to play the role of Putin fanboy and patsy, what is striking is how little the Russians have actively gotten from his administration. They want some new grand bargain, a Yalta 2.0, that would fracture Europe into spheres of influence and at once elevate Russia to the status of a peer power, while confirming that Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and most of the other post-Soviet states fall within its “sphere of privileged interest.” None of that is on the table.
What Putin wants is the lifting of sanctions, whether those enforced under the Magnitsky Act that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was lobbying Donald the Younger on at their now-infamous meeting in June, or the personal and economic sanctions applied after Moscow annexed Crimea and invaded south eastern Ukraine. Although some voices are calling for a new policy (often code for “lift the sanctions”), Congress is actually doubling down on them. In the political equivalent of putting a child-lock on the medicine cabinet, they are also limiting Trump’s capacity to interfere with the sanctions.
Moscow would love to see NATO disbanded or simply rendered redundant. Yet precisely because of Washington’s oscillation between disinterest and demands, the alliance’s European members are at long last getting their acts together and increasing their defense spending. Even the European Union is talking more seriously than ever about the need for security cooperation.