By Saagar Enjeti, DCNF
If President-elect Donald Trump’s plan is to improve relations with Russia, it will likely put him on a collision course with members of his own party and the diplomatic establishment.
Trump’s agenda took a significant hit Thursday when President Barack Obama sanctioned Russian intelligence officials and expelled 35 diplomats, on charges of allegedly trying to meddle in the 2016 presidential election. Republican leaders hailed the decision and continue to press for a full congressional investigation of the charges.
“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said in a statement following Obama’s announcement. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel said of Russia’s alleged actions, “I’m plenty concerned about it and upset about it, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it.” Senator Marco Rubio also said the sanctions were “long overdue” and vowed to strengthen measures against Russia.
Amidst this seeming Republican consensus, it will be exceedingly difficult for Trump to reverse Obama’s punitive sanctions against Moscow without intra-party outcry. Such a reversal would require Trump to re-admit known Russian intelligence agents, and restore Russian access to known spy compounds. The White House sought to downplay the appearance they were boxing Trump into a corner, saying “When the new administration takes office it’s entirely their judgment whether or not they continue on the course that we set.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin seemed to reverse course on retaliatory sanctions Friday, saying he would not in expel U.S. diplomats from Russia. Putin’s announcement came just hours after his own Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced Russia’s intent to pursue a similar course of action. The dramatic and public reversal appears to show that Putin is holding off on retaliatory sanctions to continue pursuing a rapprochement with the Trump administration.
Trump’s ability to restore friendly relations with Russia will be central to his handling of a number of geopolitical issues including Syria, Ukraine, and the Iran deal.
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