It has become quite clear that Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin has come to deeply regret throwing the weight of his security state behind now-President Donald Trump’s election campaign. Unlike the administration preceding him, Trump has acted decisively to combat Russia’s worldwide influence. From the American missile strikes against the Assad regime in Syria to the inclusion of Montenegro to NATO, Putin massively miscalculated in his strategy to use his state-media and other influence and intelligence operations to support President Trump’s bid for the presidency.
Moscow is infuriated that Trump officials have charged Russia with being intimately involved in Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on innocents in Syria last week. According to top U.S. officials, a Russian-made fighter jet bombed a hospital to cover up for the Assad regime’s use of the Sarin nerve agent (which is classified as a weapon of mass destruction) against Syrian men, women, and children. A senior National Security Council official told reporters Tuesday that the U.S. was able to confirm the aforementioned events thanks to a combination of open source intelligence, signals intelligence, and evidence samples.
In another move that angered Moscow this week, Trump approved the addition of Montenegro to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was originally conceived — and remains partially purposed — to stop Russian intrusion into northern and eastern Europe. Russia fiercely opposes the expansion of NATO, which the Kremlin sees as an adversarial military entity.
Russian strongman Putin has basically admitted the honeymoon period between he and Trump is over, telling state-media on Wednesday: "One could say that the level of trust on a working level [with the United States government], especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated."
His remarks come as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian officials. Tillerson was initially set to converse with the Russian president, then Putin cancelled their meeting. Now it appears that they will indeed meet Wednesday.
Tillerson’s counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, has added himself to the long list of Moscow officials who have become upset with Trump’s policies.
"I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs," Lavrov pouted during his meeting with Tillerson. "And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken."
Doubling down on his anti-Putin stance, President Trump has personally added weight to critiques against the Russian leader. Discussing the Syrian strikes on Fox Business Wednesday, Trump said Putin “is backing a person that’s truly an evil person.”
Trump has also ramped up pressure on Russian allies in Iran and China. White House officials continue to refer to Moscow as being on a diplomatic “island,” utilizing the metaphor to showcase Putin’s waning influence over global affairs.
Additionally, both U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary Tillerson have called out Russia for its moral depravity in a way rarely seen in overt channels.
Last week, both Haley and Tillerson unleashed intense critiques against Russian involvement in Syria. Russia has “no interest in peace” in Syria, Ambassador Haley opined. Secretary Tillerson added that Russia and Iran “bear moral responsibility” for Assad’s slaughter.
During the American presidential campaign, Russia acted decisively in selling out in Trump’s favor. To be clear, no firm evidence has ever been presented to indicate that the Russians swung the election in Trump’s favor or even successfully influenced a single voter. Still, from the time in which he was the GOP frontrunner up to Election Day, Russian state television had nothing but good things to say about candidate Trump.
President Trump held his cards close, while his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was much more up front in criticizing the Russian government.
All indications seemed to imply that Trump was the dream candidate for Moscow. He refused to criticize Putin for his country’s vast human rights abuses, seemed open to cooperating with Russia on a variety of issues, and was openly skeptical about NATO and the European Union.
In response, Moscow appeared to observe the rhetoric of Clinton and Trump as an indicator for future action. To the honest observer of Russian media, it became very clear who the Kremlin supported, given that the state controls the media agenda. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia took their efforts a step further and attempted to influence the election in Trump’s favor by harming Secretary Clinton’s favorability. An intelligence community assessment stated that “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference” for Trump and attempted to “denigrate” and “harm” Clinton’s electability.
In their rage, leftist media outlets floated countless conspiracies involving Trump being allegedly controlled by Putin. In one such example, Clinton partisan and former CIA official Mike Morrell called Trump an “unwitting agent” of Russia. To this day, zero evidence has surfaced to confirm their wild allegations. The establishment media, like the Russians, appeared to misread Trump in a similar manner.
The Russians grossly miscalculated. It’s hard to imagine, just 82 days into a presidency, that Hillary Clinton would move so decisively against the Putin regime in the way that President Trump has. In less than ninety days, Trump has managed to infuriate Putin to the point where, in a sulking fit, he canceled a meeting with the U.S. secretary of state.
President Trump was never the “unwitting agent” of Russia the media made him out to be. In the end, Trump played the Russian government like a fiddle, leaving the Kremlin more vulnerable than ever.
Jordan Schachtel is the national security correspondent for CR. Follow him on Twitter @JordanSchachtel.