Over the course of the presidential campaign, President Trump repeatedly suggested that the US would seek improved relations with Russia, a policy that was extremely controversial, but seen as more or less a “sure thing” after the inauguration.
A month after inauguration, the future of US-Russian relations are a lot less clear, with top Trump Administration figures sending wildly conflicting messages on their intentions, and whether even a basic normalization of defense coordination is possible.
Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford met with Russian Army Gen. Valery Makarov and said the US was very much open to restoring communications with the Russian military. Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie presented this improvement as a matter of course, insisting that even in the worst days of the Cold War, the US military had the ability to communicate with the Russians.
But Defense Secretary James Mattis appeared to take a totally different perspective, insisting the US could only restore its relations with Russia “from a position of strength,” after spending days hyping the “threat” Russia poses to Europe in trying to coax more military spending out of NATO nations there.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appeared similarly doubtful on improved US-Russia ties, saying the US would only work with Russia in specific ways that favor the United States, and then only to the extent that the Russians “live up to their commitments.”
Clearly a lot of officials have a lot to say, but the one person whose position on US-Russia relations would be the most important, President Trump, is almost completely silent on the matter. Though in recent speeches Trump has reiterated his view that it would be “a positive thing” if the US got along with Russia, he has carefully dodged all questions about any specific action that will or won’t be taken.