The "good old days" with Russia seem to be over, if they ever existed

If Vladimir Putin is still hoping to find a U.S. president who will have more flexibility after the elections he’s clearly going to require a lot more patience. This week marked what appears to be yet another nadir in Russo-American relations, with indications out of the White House that Donald Trump would sign the new Russia sanctions bill. That prompted some of the expected responses from Vladimir Putin and his crew. Yesterday, Ed Morrissey covered one of the retaliatory measures that Russia is taking, with hundreds of our diplomats being kicked out of the country.

All of this has prompted some foreign policy analysts to conclude that, at least for Trump and Putin’s personal interactions, the honeymoon may finally be over. (Reuters)

Russia’s tit-for-tat decision to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats and seize two U.S. compounds may be an acknowledgment in Moscow that Trump’s ability to bring better ties is limited, at best, and the start of a new downward spiral in relations.

Russia took the step after the U.S. Senate on Thursday sent a breath-taking signal that it does not trust Trump on Russia by passing a bill that imposes new sanctions on Moscow and ties the president’s hands if he seeks to ease them…

(The Russians) have taken Trump’s measure and while they are willing to exploit his goofy fixation on Putin and naive sense you can do deals with someone like Putin … they realize his clownish performance as president makes it really hard for him to deliver on any of the big things that Russia wants,” said Andrew Weiss, a former national security council Russia expert.

Calling it a “goofy fixation on Putin” is a bit on the harsh side, but whatever President Trump’s long term plans were vis-à-vis Russia, they are on the back burner if not scrapped entirely. Anyone elected president with a relatively advanced set of skills in the area of diplomacy might have been able to work around Russia’s actions in Ukraine, threats to other neighbors and even their backhanded “help” in Syria. Of course, that would involve continued dialogue and finding some things to cooperate on while still chastising Moscow for their other sins. But Trump is in a special position on this front. With the media’s constant focus on alleged “collusion” between the Trump campaign and the Russians, any sign of going easy on Putin would be an invitation to disaster. That’s pretty much scuttled hopes for any sort of normalization of relations in the short term.

But even in the midst of all this fog, lower level diplomatic workhorses are trying to keep the channels open. You might take some hope for progress from the fact that just last night Russia’s Foreign Minister was still talking to our Secretary of State and declaring that they were ready to make nice. (Reuters)

Russia is ready to normalize relations with the United States and to cooperate on major global issues, Moscow’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a phone call on Friday.

Lavrov told Tillerson that Moscow’s decision to cut U.S. diplomatic staff in Russia was prompted by “a number of Washington’s hostile steps”.

Lavrov and Tillerson “agreed to maintain contact on a range of bilateral issues”, the Russian’s Foreign Ministry said in statement.

This may be the new normal for U.S. – Russian relations for a while. Trump and Putin will need to growl at each other a bit while Congress continues to insist on “tough sanctions” to teach Moscow a lesson. But in the background, lower level folks will continue to make deals. And cooperation can’t really be avoided on either side, at least to some degree. There are some areas where we simply have to work together and others where we need to keep our options open for the future.

The most immediate area of concern is ensuring that we continue to have cooperation on space exploration. Putin still has the keys to our only viable taxi back and forth to the International Space Station. Losing that is like owning the majority share in an island condominium but losing your rights to use the only bridge to the island.

In the future we’ll likely have more need for Russia, particularly when it comes to Turkey. If President Erdogan continues down his current path toward complete tyranny and begins to mess up what little stability we’ve been able to maintain in that region, somebody will eventually have to swat him down. At the moment, his newest and best friend is Vladimir Putin which may eventually make Russia’s relationship with Turkey the equivalent of China’s slippery “control” of North Korea. So if we wind up having to put a leash on Erdogan, Russia may be the only path toward that end.

So all in all, the honeymoon may be over between Putin and Trump, but not between the two nations in their entirety. We simply don’t have the option of completely cutting off Russia, even if some of the more hawkish among us would like to see it.

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