Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with Vladimir Putin today at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation. The Robert Mueller investigation had a deleterious effect, not primarily on U.S.-Russian relations but on analysts’ ability to see what is plainly before their eyes. Despite the hysterical conspiracy theory that the American president was a Russian stooge, the Trump administration has pursued a policy agenda that both the Russians and Democrats have long opposed.
For instance, the United States has returned to a policy of pressuring the Islamic Republic of Iran, a Russian ally, rather than empowering it as the Obama administration and the Russian government had sought. The Trump administration rightly withdrew the United States from the Iran deal, a deal so contrary to U.S. interests the Obama administration avoided the Senate treaty process altogether, and has unleashed punishing sanctions.
Rather than remaining relatively quiet when the Iranian people protest under the weight of the oppressive regime, the Trump administration has made it clear that the United States supports the Iranian people’s desire for change—the ones hurt the worst by the regime’s cruelty towards minorities and women and the regime’s decision to eschew efforts to bolster its economy in order to fund terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, the Assad regime, and the Houthis in Yemen.
The Trump administration, unsatisfied with remaining party to the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) when the Russians have long been openly violating it, rallied the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—an alliance whose members have varied views and relationships with the Russian Bear—to call out Russia’s violations with one voice, and support the U.S. intent to stop abiding by the treaty and, absent Russia’s return to compliance, abrogate it.
Additionally, the Trump administration’s refusal to simply extend the nuclear arms control treaty New START, negotiated by the Obama administration, is wise. The treaty is problematic in several areas, so trying to secure improvements makes a great deal of sense.
The tepid U.S. response towards Russia’s aggression and continued provocations in the Black Sea region ended with President Trump’s election (although I’d like to see an even more muscular response with willing allies in the region to deter further aggression.) In December 2017 Washington approved two major arms sales to Kiev. Then in April 2018 Washington delivered much-needed anti-tank missiles.
The United States has also trained Ukrainian military units alongside Canadians, Poles, and Lithuanians. To bolster deterrence, the United States has closely cooperated with Poland including by executing the largest arms deal in Poland’s history that included the highly effective Patriot missile defense system.
The clear demonstration of alliance solidarity by selling Poland Patriots came on the heels of the United States expelling 100 Russian “diplomats” from the United States in response to the abhorrent Russian government-sponsored attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter on United Kingdom soil using nerve agent Novichok.
The list goes on, from calling out Russia’s backing of the illegitimate occupation of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, to modernizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent and adapting it to beef up our deterrent against Russia aggression, to outlining the Russian threat in a report on the U.S. missile defense strategy, to supporting the Three Seas Initiative and opposing Nord Stream 2 to undercut Russia’s ability to use energy as a political weapon.
Pompeo has a tall order: make clear that the United States will continue to pursue its interests, outline areas on which the United Sates is unwilling to negotiate, and find any possible issue in which the two nations can cooperate. On this, the most important issue is China. As the United States seeks to redirect its primary focus on thwarting a rising China, it would behoove us to ensure Russia, the junior partner in the China-Russia partnership, isn’t making our efforts more challenging.
Critics will no doubt claim a display of civility in front of cameras between the two leaders is further “proof” of a soft spot for the Russians. It’s delusional. If the United States continues to unapologetically pursue its interests, even in areas Russia opposes, while creating better diplomatic ties based on a dispassionate desire to cooperate where we can and by providing better clarity of our intent, it would be a dramatic improvement for U.S. and ally security.