President Donald Trump entered office with praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin and support for improving Washington-Moscow relations. A year later President Trump surprised even his aides by congratulating Putin on the latter’s reelection and suggesting a summit meeting between the two leaders.
A chilling political wind is blowing through the capitals of America, Europe and Russia. There is talk of a new Cold War, as the two sides trade diplomatic expulsions. In the West, at least, there is even a hint of war as NATO fusses over European defense capabilities (poor) and the United States deploys more troops to the continent (as usual).
President Trump has stood by, mostly silently, as bilateral relations continued their slow-motion collapse, demonstrating his essential irrelevance to much of U.S. foreign policy. For instance, he allowed the State Department to announce the latest expulsion of Russian diplomats. This is one area where his gut instincts—the value of an improved relationship—are correct, but what he personally believes obviously doesn’t much matter for policy. That could change as he asserts himself with a new secretary of state and national security advisor, but they both have hawkish instincts and have demonstrated no interest in détente with Moscow.
Despite the diplomatic spiral, however, there is no new Cold War. And there won’t be a hot war unless Washington ignites a confrontation while pursuing an ever more interventionist and activist foreign policy in areas viewed as vital by Russia.