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Editorial Board

Trump Should Flatter Putin, Not Embrace Him

Any geopolitical bromance won't survive a brush with reality.

Come Jan. 20, President-elect Donald J. Trump will start carrying out his agenda. How does he expect to turn his promises into policy? Do his plans make sense? If not, what should he do? Finally, given the political realities of Washington, what’s most likely to happen? This is part of a series of editorials that try to answer these questions.

What he says he'll do: "There's nothing that I can think of that I'd rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now," Trump said in July. He's expressed admiration for President Vladimir Putin and said he'd consider lifting sanctions imposed on Russia for its incursions into Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. And he wants to forge common cause with Russia in Syria to fight Islamic State. On the other hand, he's also threatened to shoot down Russian fighters that buzz U.S. Navy ships.

Does that make sense? Russian cooperation is essential to everything from nuclear nonproliferation and counterterrorism to climate change. But lifting Ukraine sanctions and recognizing the annexation of Crimea would embolden Putin, scare Europe, and give China a freer hand in the South China Sea. Cooperating more closely with Russia in Syria would just advance its strategic goals while making the U.S. complicit in the war crimes committed by Putin and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

What he ought to do: Flatter Putin. Meet with him. Hear what he has to say on Syria. Then remember all the failed U.S. "resets" with Russia under Putin's leadership and quietly hew to policies that protect the territorial integrity of other nations, safeguard freedom and human rights, and advance shared interests where possible.

The most likely outcome: Any bromance between Trump and Putin will remain skin-deep. Mounting concern about Russia within the Republican Party, both in Congress and from some of Trump's closest advisers, will prevent the lifting of sanctions or the recognition of Crimea's annexation. And Trump's plans for a military buildup will rile Russia.

    --Editors: James Gibney, Michael Newman.

    To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net .

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