Trump v Russia
On Thursday, in her first remarks to the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley issued the Trump administration's first condemnation of Russia's actions in Ukraine, including its seizure of the Crimean peninsula in 2014. "I consider it unfortunate on the occasion of my first appearance here I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia," she said. "We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions."
Because of President Trump's praise of and refusal to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, there has been the expectation that he might lift U.S. sanctions against Russia and some Russian officials. Haley suggested otherwise, at least the 2014 sanctions over Ukraine. "Eastern Ukraine of course is not the only part of the country suffering because of Russia's aggressive actions," she said. "The United States continues to condemn and call for an immediate end to the Russian occupation of Crimea." Since Trump's phone call with Putin, pro-Russia separatists have launched ongoing attacks in eastern Ukraine.
Haley's remarks, while out of step with Trump's, are in line with what she and other Trump nominees — notably Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis — said in their confirmation hearings. Western allies are not sure where that leaves them on crucial issues like NATO, though The New York Times suggests that Haley's speech, combined with the White House asking for a halt in Israeli settlements and threatened sanctions on Iran, signals that Trump "is embracing some key pillars of the former administration's strategy."
At the same time, on Thursday the Treasury Department eased sanctions against Russian spy agency FSB that Obama had put in place to hit back against Russia's interference in the 2016 election. A Treasury official described it as "a very technical fix" to help consumer technology companies export products into Russia. FSB issues import licenses for tech products, and the fix, in the works since Jan. 20, will allow them to request those documents. Trump said Thursday that he's "not easing anything," but even supporters of the shift said the timing is lousy. "It's probably not a huge deal, but it is tone deaf," a Republican aide who is hawkish on Russia told The Wall Street Journal.