Another View: Trump Has a Bad Word for Russia at Last

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The West's response to Russian aggression has usually been too little, too late, and devoid of the one voice that really matters — President Donald Trump's.



But at last, his administration is taking action, and Trump has spoken out, tentatively. On Thursday the Treasury Department announced it was imposing sanctions for the Kremlin's interference in the 2016 election. Officials have denounced the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain and Russia's devastating bombing missions in Syria.



While such steps are encouraging, only a more robust, unified response from the United States and its NATO allies would impede President Vladimir Putin from expanding his pattern of heinous behavior.



Before leaving office, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats, seized two diplomatic properties and imposed sanctions in response to the election interference. Trump, for reasons that have never been made completely clear, has until now resisted a congressional mandate that he expand the penalties. This was despite the warnings of intelligence agencies that Russia was already trying to meddle in the 2018 election and Congress' near unanimous passage of the law demanding more sanctions.



The sanctions announced Thursday affect five Russian organizations and 19 individuals cited for spreading disinformation and propaganda to disrupt the election.



While this was Trump's most significant anti-Russia move, these are the same entities identified by Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian meddling, in a recent indictment and only add two new senior Russian officials, with ties to military intelligence, to the list Obama sanctioned in 2016, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.



The penalties need to go further, subjecting Putin's wealthy cronies and their families to sanctions like travel bans and asset freezes that would put even more pressure on the Russian leader.



The administration also took the unusual step of citing the Russian government for a previously unconfirmed series of intrusions into U.S. power plants and the computer networks that control power grids that occurred about the time of the election. Those attacks suggest Russian state-sponsored hackers have been actively mapping out Western industrial, power and nuclear facilities for eventual sabotage, experts say.



While Trump said nothing Thursday about either the sanctions or Russia's interference in the election, he did end days of silence about the attack with a military-grade nerve agent against the former spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter, despite Moscow's denials. "It certainly looks like the Russians were behind it," he told reporters in the Oval Office. "Something that should never ever happen. We're taking it very seriously, as I think are many others."



But Trump's comments came a full day after his U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, took the lead with a more powerful statement at the Security Council. She insisted the United States stands in "absolute solidarity" with Britain after the attack. Russia's use of chemical weapons on the soil of another U.N. member is a "defining moment," she said, and there is a need to "hold Russia accountable."



And the piling on didn't stop there. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser, whom Trump reportedly may fire, condemned Russia in a speech Thursday for being "complicit in Assad's atrocities" in Syria and conducting more than 100 bombing missions in Eastern Ghouta, as well as being "responsible" for the Skripal poisoning.



All of this occurred after Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to expel 23 Russian spies and suspend high-level contact with Moscow, and also joined the United States, France and Germany in a statement denouncing Russia's action as a clear violation of international law.



But the statement said nothing about joint action, and May's measures either lacked details or didn't go far enough. Putin, an authoritarian leader who is expected to be re-elected easily to another six-year term Sunday, has paid little or no price for his aggressions, including annexing Crimea, destabilizing other parts of Ukraine and enabling President Bashar Assad's regime in Syria.



He won't stop until he knows that the United States will stand up to him and work with its allies to impose stronger financial and diplomatic measures to rein him in.



~ The New York Times


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