For much of this year, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have been engaged in a long-distance courtship. They have said kind things about each other in public and separately expressed visions of a mutually agreeable future.
Since Trump’s election, the anticipation has become more explicit. It culminated this week in the U.S. president-elect’s call for America to “move on” from allegations of Russian electoral hacking, and the Russian president’s blithe pronouncement Friday that he would rather plan for a new relationship with Trump than retaliate in kind to sanctions and expulsions ordered by outgoing President Obama.
“Great move on delay (by V. Putin),” Trump tweeted. “I always knew he was very smart!”
But as with all such arms-length pairings, the looming question is whether Trump and Putin will find fulfillment or disappointment once face-to-face reality strikes.
U.S. and Russian officials and experts are deeply divided over the answer. Some see Moscow playing Trump like a fiddle. The Kremlin “sees Trump’s presidency as a net loss for the U.S. strategic position that Russia should take advantage of,” said Vladimir Frolov, a Moscow-based analyst.
Others depict the Russians as genuinely willing to deal and cautiously optimistic about improved relations under a U.S. president who has none of the prejudices they see in the Obama administration.