Politics

Ground Game

Not normal: When a Russian president defends a US president

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, second left, at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 10, 2017. Trump on Wednesday welcomed Vladimir Putin's top diplomat to the White House for Trump's highest level face-to-face contact with a Russian government official since he took office in January. Fourth from right is Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak. (Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via AP)

Russian Foreign Ministry Photo via Associated Press

President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the White House on May 10.

For 80 years, a large part of the president’s legacy has been defined by how he conducts this country’s relationship with the Soviet Union or, now, Russia.

Former president Harry Truman’s administration decided on a “containment” policy that eventually led the US to the Korean War. President Dwight Eisenhower continued this policy and led the US to Vietnam. At least in terms of foreign policy, John F. Kennedy’s presidency was defined by the Cuban missile crisis and his speech to a divided Berlin. Ronald Reagan returned to that divide in Berlin and told the Soviet leader to tear that wall down. George W. Bush said he could see into President Putin’s soul while having a renowned Russia expert, Condoleezza Rice, next to him on all major foreign policy decisions. Barack Obama’s foreign policy approach was notable because his pivot to Asia was a really a pivot away from Russia.

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None of these presidents experienced what happened to Donald Trump this week: The Russian head of state came to his defense in the middle of a political firestorm.

Yes, there are congressional and law enforcement investigations into what role, if any, Russia played in the 2016 US presidential election. What’s more, The Washington Post reported this week that Trump shared highly classified intelligence with the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office. 

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Democrats believe it, and Republicans want answers. But Vladimir Putin says it never happened and Trump did nothing wrong.

Indeed, at a press conference with the Italian prime minister, Putin joked that he should chide his foreign minister for not sharing the intelligence with him. 

“I’ll be forced to issue him with a reprimand because he did not share these secrets with us,” Putin said. “Not with me, nor with representatives of Russia’s intelligence services. It was very bad of him.”

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And then Putin mocked the entire controversy — perhaps in a more effective way than the White House has been able to. Putin said that Trump’s critics weren’t letting him do his job.

“It’s hard to imagine what else can these people who generate such nonsense and rubbish can dream up next,” Putin said. 

This was not a statement from Republican National Committee or Trump senior aide Kellyanne Conway.

Reagan once called the Soviet Union the “evil empire.” Running for president in 2012, Mitt Romney called Russia the “number one geopolitical foe” of the US.

Today, for whatever reason, Russia is the country that has the current US president’s back.

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