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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 18th August 2017 > The One Who Got Away

The One Who Got Away

Vladimir Putin thought he had fiinally found an American president he could rely on. He was wrong
FREE HAND: Russian President Vladimir Putin believed Donald Trump was a man with whom he could do business, a pragmatist willing to leave the Kremlin alone in exchange for support against terrorism.
DEAR LEADER: Before he won the 2016 presidential election, Trump had admired Putin’s authoritarian leadership and envied his dictator-like approval ratings.

Last November, 0n the night of the U.S. presidential election, the mood in the Union Jack Pub in Moscow was jubilant. A select group of Russian media executives, pro-Kremlin activists and Duma members watched with mounting excitement—and joyful disbelief—as Donald Trump’s Electoral College votes climbed toward victory. Reverently displayed in a corner of the bar stood a specially-commissioned triptych of oil portraits, in heroic Socialist-realist style, of Trump, France’s Marine Le Pen and Russian President Vladimir Putin. A senior producer from Tsargrad TV, Russia’s patriotic, Orthodox TV channel, pointed to the trio in jubilation. “Tomorrow’s world belongs to them!”

Today, that new world order is nowhere in sight. The U.S. Congress has broken up the Trump-Putin bromance and forced the American president to sign the most punitive economic sanctions ever imposed on Russia to punish Moscow for meddling in Ukraine and Syria, along with its U.S. election-related hacking. And since the revelations about possible collusion between the Trump team and the Kremlin have begun to snowball toward an impeachment crisis, the American president’s once effusive praise for Putin has vanished.

The collapse of the Trump-Putin mutual admiration society— potentially the world’s most politically important relationship— is a story of unrealistic Russian hopes, badly-thought-out U.S. gestures and the Kremlin’s misguided attempts to interfere in American democracy. Putin believed Trump was a man with whom he could do business, a pragmatist willing to overlook Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and warmongering in Eastern Ukraine; someone who would allow the Kremlin a free hand in exchange for Russian support against terrorism. Trump had long admired Putin’s authoritarian leadership and envied his dictator- like approval ratings. On the campaign trail, he also had viewed praising Putin as a useful, if minor, tool in his arsenal of anti-Clinton invective. “I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Putin,” Trump said in September 2016. “And I think I would have a very, very good relationship with Russia.”

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LOVER'S QUARREL Russian President Vladimir Putin believed Donald Trump was a man with whom he could do business, a pragmatist willing to leave the Kremlin alone in exchange for support against terrorism. Putin thought he had finally found an American president that he could rely on, he was wrong.
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