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Leonid Bershidsky

Trump's New Ukraine Envoy Changes the Tune

Getting tough with Russia over Ukraine but not Syria makes no strategic sense.
Tougher talk from Washington.

Tougher talk from Washington.

Photographer: Aleksey Filippov/AFP/Getty Images

When candidate Donald Trump made overtures to Russia during the 2016 election campaign, a grand bargain between the two nations -- U.S. acquiescence to Russian depredations in Ukraine in exchange for help in defeating Islamic State in Syria -- looked like a possible scenario under a Trump presidency. No one expected the U.S. to take a tougher line on Ukraine and yield Syria to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Yet that's what appears to be going on now, but more by accident than as part of any consistent U.S. strategy.

When Secretary of State Rex Tillerson picked Kurt Volker as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, he signaled a tougher approach toward Russia's Ukrainian adventures. An old friend of that biggest of Russia hawks, Senator John McCain, Volker traveled to eastern Ukraine and laid out a set of views that will be highly inconvenient both to the Kremlin and to its longtime negotiating partners on the Ukraine crisis, Germany and France.