With every passing day, it appears that many of the anticipated foreign policy changes under the new administration may end up being nothing but smoke and mirrors. First, it was the middle east, where despite campaign promises of pulling back US troops, Trump is instead considering adding to US deployments to reinforce what he plans to be Syrian "safe zones."
Then, during today's Sean Spicer press conference, the White House spokesman had that President Trump has been "tough" on Russia and expects Moscow to “return” the Crimea peninsula to Ukraine, the White House spokesman told reporters. Addressing the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – hounded by the media over his contacts with Russian diplomats prior to Trump’s inauguration – Spicer pointed out that Russia “seized” Crimea under the Obama administration and that the Trump-appointed ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has “strongly denounced the Russian occupation.”
"President Trump has made it very clear that he expects the Russian government to de-escalate violence in the Ukraine and return Crimea," Spicer said at a daily news briefing. "At the same time, he fully expects to and wants to get along with Russia."
That may be problematic if indeed Trump plans to perpetuate the policies of his predecessor. On February, the Nikki Haley said at the UN Security Council that “Crimea is a part of Ukraine. Our Crimea-related sanctions will remain in place until Russia returns control of the peninsula to Ukraine."
Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin responded by citing the US Constitution and pointing out that Crimeans overwhelmingly voted to join Russia, after the US-backed coup in February 2014 overthrew the elected government in Kiev.
It is in the national and economic interest of the US to have a good relationship with Russia, Spicer explained, but said that Haley “speaks for the president” on the matter of Crimea.
Flynn’s resignation on Monday followed several weeks of media furor over his telephone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the US in December, after the outgoing Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats and seized two properties. Moscow chose not to respond in kind. “There is nothing that General Flynn did that was a violation of any sort,” Spicer said, explaining that the adviser was asked to resign because of Trump’s “eroding trust” after Flynn’s accounts of the conversation to administration officials did not square with what was leaked to the media.
However, with Democrats smelling blood in the water over the sensitive topic of the Trump administration's alleged proximity to Russia, and even Republicans now calling for an exhaustive probe into Trump-Russia relations, recent events may have well set back any potential thaw in Russia-US relations indefinitely.