After Trump’s win in 2016, Democrats and Beltway types imagined a White House controlled by the Kremlin. A lot has changed in a few months.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow on Tuesday for the first visit by a member of President Trump’s Cabinet to Russia. Tillerson’s visit, and the development of U.S.-Russia relations in 2017, has gone nothing like most in Washington, D.C. predicted last year.
Hillary Clinton said Trump will be Vladimir Putin’s “puppet.” Journalists pointed out Rex Tillerson’s past ties to Putin through Exxon Mobil. Some Democrats, like Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), went as far as to suggest the Kremlin is controlling Trump.
Here are three ways this Tillerson trip to Russia will go nothing like these Democrats – and, indeed, most of D.C. – expected.
#1: TRUMP’S HARD LINE ON RUSSIA
Tillerson took a hard line on Russia early Tuesday, saying the Kremlin was either negligent or incompetent in the lead-up to Bashar al-Assad’s latest chemical attack on his own people:
“These agreements stipulated Russia as the guarantor of a Syria free of chemical weapons,” Tillerson said. “It is unclear whether Russia failed to take this obligation seriously and whether Russia has been incompetent. But this distinction doesn’t much matter to the dead. We can’t let this happen again.”
Tillerson is speaking for Trump, of course, and the entire White House. That makes Tillerson’s ultimatum to Russia all the more surprising: choose between us and Assad.
#2: AMERICA’S MILITARY INTERVENTION
The Tillerson visit comes after America’s “first direction military action against Assad’s forces,” an airstrike on a “government-controlled base.”
A U.S. intelligence official told the AP this week, though, that the U.S. is confident Russia knew of Assad’s chemical attack, which killed dozens and injured hundreds. The U.S. also knew Russian forces operated from the base it targeted.
#3: TILLERSON SPEAKS FOR THE WORLD
The most surprising development of Tillerson’s trip, though, may be that he is speaking as a “leader of the West,” as Reuters pointed out on Tuesday:
The secretary of state’s role as messenger for a united G7 position is a turning point for Trump, who in the past alarmed allies by voicing scepticism about the value of U.S. support for traditional friends, while calling for closer ties with Moscow.
Will this “turning point” last for the Trump administration? Time will tell, but this first U.S. trip to Russia is surprising in a number of ways.
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