7 Times Trump Has Been Tougher on Russia Than Obama

Putin Trump
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February 22, 2018

The media have gone out of their way to paint President Donald Trump as soft on Russia or a Putin "stooge." But if you don't suffer from selective amnesia of the Obama years, it won't surprise you that the previous administration bent over backwards to appease the Kremlin.

Obama never stopped displaying weakness toward Russia, from his "Russia Reset" to his "flexible" approach at his reelection. But hey, when he heard about "election hacking," he told Vladimir Putin to "cut it out."

The Kremlin was happy with the "positive spirit" of Obama's secret letter he sent to Moscow right after entering office. Then-president of Russia Dmitry Medvedev viewed the development of Russian-American relations as "exceptionally positive."

The media agreed.

"Better relations with Russia matter because Russia can be very helpful on a range of problems, like Afghanistan, that are high up on the Obama agenda," CBS News reported at the time.

"The Obama administration has been vocal about its desire to repair rifts between the U.S. and Russia," CBS News said.

Obama himself said there are many benefits from having a "strong and vibrant Russia" in a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow in July 2009. He blasted the "old way of thinking" that the United States and Russia are "destined to be antagonists."

During the same trip, Obama "went out of his way" to compliment Putin, praising the "extraordinary work" Putin had done on "behalf of the Russian people."

A senior official summed up Obama's feelings toward the former KGB agent: "Obama had been convinced Putin was 'a man of today and has got his eyes firmly on the future."

Yes, a future of American inaction, appeasement, and weakness. Until now. Trump tweeted Tuesday he has been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Here are seven reasons why Trump is right:

1. Missile Defense

The Trump administration is developing a new road-mobile, ground-launched missile in direct response to Russia, which violated a Cold War arms treaty by developing a medium-ranged cruise missile. The defense authorization bill signed by President Trump last month devoted $25 million to developing the missile, which the administration said will "show the world America means business."

"The Obama administration worked unsuccessfully to persuade the Kremlin to stand down the program," Time reported. "Now the Trump administration has decided to respond with a missile of its own."

The Trump administration is also vastly expanding the U.S. missile defense system, with plans to build "two $1-billion radar installations and adding 20 rocket interceptors to the 44 already deployed in underground silos at Ft. Greely in Alaska and at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California."

By contrast, one of Obama's first foreign policy moves in office was to abandon the missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, which was a "cause of celebration in Moscow."

Instead, the Obama administration "pursued a NATO-centric approach," which built a ground-based missile defense system in Romania that launched in 2016. Obama was responsible for delaying missile defense in Europe for nearly a decade.

2. Killing Russians in Syria

The Trump administration has repeatedly bombed pro-Assad forces in Syria, something the Obama administration was unwilling to do. Obama allowed Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, to cross his "red line." Aspiring novelist Ben Rhodes has now admitted Obama stayed out of the Syrian civil war because intervention would have made the nuclear deal with Iran impossible to achieve.

Recently, U.S. forces killed dozens of Russians fighting for the Syrian regime, a stark contrast to Obama's "hands-off" approach.

3. Arming Ukraine 

Late last year the Trump administration approved the sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, prompting Moscow to complain that Trump had "crossed the line."

Obama refused to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, choosing instead a policy of appeasement after Russia invaded the country in 2014.

The Obama administration's initial response: a hashtag and selfie. Obama lectured Putin he was acting "not out of strength but out of weakness" by sending troops and tanks into Crimea.

Even after the invasion, Obama was secretly reaching out to Russia to "forge a new working relationship."

"Our theory of this all along has been, let's see what's there," a senior Obama administration official said, "regardless of the likelihood of success."

4. Expanding Sanctions 

The Trump administration has expanded the sanctions placed against Russia for its occupation of Crimea to "38 new individuals and companies, including two Russian officials," and imposed new sanctions against Russians for human rights violations under the Magnitsky Act.

Obama's sanctions, on the other hand, for Russia's attempts to interfere in the 2016 election were "so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic," according to the Washington Post.

5. Closing Russian Diplomatic Facilities

The Trump administration took a "bold step," according to ABC News, by expelling Russian diplomats and shutting down Russian diplomatic facilities, in response to Putin expelling hundreds of U.S. diplomats from Russia.

The State Department ordered the closure of the Russian consulate general in San Francisco, a chancery annex in Washington, D.C., and a consular annex in New York City. Obama only closed two diplomatic facilities in retaliation for election interference.

6. Undermining Russian Energy Policy

Trump has also irked Moscow with his "energy dominance" strategy. Trump has negotiated deals with Poland and Ukraine to import natural gas, coal, and crude oil from the United States. Because of the imports, Poland will no longer deal with the Russian state-owned Gazprom in the future.

A personal meeting between Trump and Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko led to a deal to import U.S. coal for the first time.

In contrast, the Obama administration, led by Hillary Clinton's State Department, gave 20 percent of uranium production capacity in the United States to Russia.

7. Disavowing Iran Deal

By disavowing the Iran deal, Trump is also not afraid of defying Russia. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said the Kremlin will "not support what the United States is trying to do," by changing the nuclear agreement, because it would be "absolutely unacceptable for Iran."

The approach is in stark contrast to Obama's handling of Russia's alliance with Tehran. Obama made concessions to Russia by vowing to not block their sale of S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Iran in 2010, in exchange for Russian cooperation on international sanctions against Iran.

Russia ended up delivering four surface-to-air missile systems six years later, giving Iran a "sophisticated defensive system" that could "help Iran shoot down American or Israeli warplanes should either try to bomb its nuclear facilities."

Obama officials said the concessions the administration gave to Russia in 2010 were "reasonable gestures of confidence as ties improved."