Donald Trump is finding himself caught between his desire to improve
relations with Russia and fellow Republicans who are pushing for a
harsher response to what American spy agencies say was the Kremlin’s
meddling in the U.S. presidential election.
tacit acknowledgement on Sunday by his incoming chief of staff, Reince
Priebus, that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic Party
organizations suggests that Trump’s maneuvering room could be shrinking.
Trump has long been dismissive of the U.S.
intelligence conclusion that Russia was behind the election hacks, which
Russia has denied, or was trying to help him win the November ballot,
saying the intrusions could have been carried out by China or a
400-pound hacker sitting on his bed.
following a report from U.S. intelligence agencies last week blaming
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia experts say Trump will face
growing calls for a stiff military, diplomatic, economic, and perhaps
also covert response after his Jan. 20 inauguration.
“The new U.S. administration will need to
adopt a significantly tougher line,” said Nile Gardiner of the Heritage
Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington that is an
influential voice in Trump’s transition team.
in Congress wary of Trump’s push for detente with Putin could pressure
the new president to withhold the thing the Russian leader wants most: a
rapid easing of the economic sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014
annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its support for separatists in
eastern Ukraine, the Russia experts said.
U.S. intelligence agencies say that since the
election, Russian spies have turned to hacking other individuals and
organizations, including prominent think-tanks, in what analysts think
is an effort to gain insights into future U.S. policies.
Brookings Institution, which is headed by prominent Russia expert
Strobe Talbott, “received a big wave of attacks the day after the
election,” but there is no reason to believe its systems have been
compromised, said David Nassar, the think tank’s vice president for
SHOWDOWN WITH CONGRESS?
Republican Senator Lindsey
Graham said he and fellow Republican John McCain, the chairman of the
Senate Armed Services Committee, would introduce legislation with
stronger sanctions than the ones now in place.
going to introduce sanctions that … will hit them in the financial
sector and the energy sector, where they’re the weakest,” Graham told
NBC television’s Meet the Press.
Marine General James Mattis, the nominee for secretary of defense who
will face a Senate confirmation hearing on Thursday, is expected to
advocate a stronger line against Moscow than the one Trump outlined
during his election campaign.That could put him at odds with Trump’s
national security adviser, retired Army Lieutenant General Michael
Flynn, who has had warmer relations with Putin’s government, and with
Rex Tillerson, the nominee for secretary of state, who as CEO of
ExxonMobil had extensive business ties with Russia.
Mattis does push for a tougher approach to Russia, that could empower
U.S. advocates for strengthening the American military presence in
Europe. That could include reinforcing U.S. troops in the Baltic states
and Poland, analysts say.
already plans to deploy 4,000 additional troops, planes, tanks and
artillery to the three former Soviet republics in the Baltics and Poland
“There is nervousness
about Trump among Europeans at NATO,” said one European diplomat. “Any
grand bargain with Russia would fundamentally change NATO’s course and
threaten Europe with disunity,” the diplomat said. “But we don’t expect
that. NATO is seeking to reassure Baltic allies, and the United States
is a big part of the deterrent.”
advocates of a sterner response to the Russian hacking say it should
include cyber counterattacks, perhaps by leaking financial information
embarrassing to some of Putin’s aides and close associates.
far, the Obama administration has refrained from such action, at least
publicly, for fear that it could lead to an escalating cyberwar that
could threaten critical infrastructure such as financial transactions
and energy transmission.
TRUMP RUSSIA POLICY STILL A BLUR
Although Trump has said the
nation needed to “move on to bigger and better things” following the
U.S. disclosure of alleged Russian hacking, it appears that Republican
and Democratic lawmakers are unlikely to drop the issue anytime soon.
told NBC he wanted to create a select committee to investigate the
Russian hacking, if he can convince the Republican-controlled Senate’s
leaders to charge their minds.
In the meantime, he said, key Senate committees, including Armed Services and Intelligence, will investigate.
say the close scrutiny of Russia’s actions will come just as Trump’s
administration starts to craft a comprehensive strategy on the former
Cold War foe. It is likely to be weeks or longer before a clear sense of
Trump’s actual Russia strategy comes into view.
there’s a team in place, until there’s a little more organization … I
tend to think we’re not going to have clear answers,” said Heather
Conley, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe now at
the Center for Strategic and International Studies.