Donald Trump has been tougher on Russia than Obama ever thought of being. That’s puzzling because according to Democrats, he’s being blackmailed over golden showers in a seedy Russian hotel. The Democrats are out there every day claiming that the president is being too soft on Russia. Yeah, remember that time Trump told Russia he would have more flexibility after the election? What? You say that was Obama? Oh yes, I forgot. Well, how about the time Trump wouldn’t arm the Ukraine and Russia snatched off Crimea? That was Obama too?
The United States has taken some pretty provocative moves against Russia in the Middle East and around thew world. In fact, there are at least five times that President Trump has stood up to the Russians.
Cruise missile strike on Syrian military base
In April, Trump ordered a devastating cruise missile strike on a Syrian airfield in retaliation for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sarin gas attack on civilians. The overwhelming display of firepower consisted of at least 50 Tomahawk missiles fired from a U.S. destroyer in the Mediterranean, which completely destroyed the air base.
The strike infuriated the Kremlin, with Putin calling it a “significant blow” to bilateral relations and Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedv saying Trump had “completely ruined” any chance of easing tensions.
Russia is one of Assad’s key allies in the Middle East and views American attacks on the Syrian regime as a strategic threat. Still, Trump administration officials ignored Russian objections to the retaliatory strike and went so far as to suggest Moscow bore responsibility for Assad’s use of chemical weapons.
New sanctions on Russians
Trump has come under fire from Democratic opponents and media commentators for not yet imposing sanctions on Russian individuals pursuant to a law passed by Congress in July. They say the delay is evidence that Trump is letting Russia off the hook for election meddling.
But these criticisms overlook two critical points about Trump’s sanctions policy. First, the law allows a 120-day grace period for the administration to evaluate if entities on its sanctions list have “substantially reduced” their business ties to Russian national security agencies. It has been just 22 says since the administration released the list.
Second, Trump has on multiple occasions slapped new sanctions on key Putin allies and other Kremlin-connected Russians. In June, the Department of the Treasury hit 38 individuals and organizations for their involvement in separatist movements in Ukraine. Then, the administration froze the U.S. assets of five prominent Russians in December, including Chechen leader Roman Kadyrov, a close Putin ally.
Additionally, Trump has not lifted any of the sanctions the Obama administration imposed over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.
Seized Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S.
When Trump took office proclaiming a desire to “get along” with Russia, Washington’s foreign policy mandarins worried that would entail rolling back Obama’s punitive sanctions, including returning two diplomatic compounds to Russian control.
In fact, Trump did the opposite, ejecting Russia from three more diplomatic facilities late last summer. Responding to Moscow’s demands that the U.S. pare down its diplomatic presence in Russia, the Department of State shut down Russia’s consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City.
The move demonstrated that the Trump administration had no qualms with escalating a diplomatic tit-for-tat begun under the previous administration. Trump has refused to return the seized compounds, despite Moscow’s threats of lawsuits and claims that Washington has violated diplomatic protocols.
Missiles, natural gas to Poland
When it comes to strategic confrontation with Russia, Syria is not the only place where Trump has moved against Russian interests. In November, Washington agreed to sell Poland $10.5 billion worth of Patriot defensive missiles and related equipment.
The deal was aimed specifically at shoring up Poland’s defenses against Russia, which had deployed nuclear-capable Iskaner missiles on its Kaliningrad exclave between Lithuania and Poland. It came on the heels of a deployment of Patriot missile batteries in Lithuania, another move that irked Moscow.
Later in November, the Trump administration approved the sale of U.S. liquid natural gas to Poland, a deal that hurts Russian economic interests there. The five-year agreement was part of a bigger effort to help Eastern European countries reduce their dependence on pipeline-delivered gas from Russia and boost American natural gas exports.