The Cable

Kremlin Pleased With Trump Call, but Still No Deal on Sanctions

They did discuss economic ties, which, to at least one member of the Duma, is code.


“You know, in previous years a deficit of mutual respect was a main reason for the regression and degradation of our relations,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov told reporters on Monday, doing his best to channel Aretha Franklin.

Per Peskov, the one-hour phone conversation Saturday between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin was “good” and “constructive.” It apparently focused on both regional and international threats, as well as the war against terrorism and, critically, the centrality of mutual respect between heads of state.

What it did not cover, according to the Kremlin, were U.S. economic sanctions slapped on Russia in 2014.

The Kremlin said that, for now, there are no deals on the table with the United States in return for an end to economic sanctions on Russia. White House officials have insisted sanctions weren’t discussed at all. Trump has previously floated the idea of lifting sanctions, as has his Secretary of State-designate, Rex Tillerson.

The first round of sanctions were put in place by the United States in 2014 after Russia illegally annexed Crimea. Late in December, just weeks before leaving office, Obama added additional sanctions after intelligence officials concluded that Russia was indeed responsible for hacking into and leaking Democratic emails over the course of the U.S. presidential election.

Remarkably, there is no indication from the White House that the Trump-Putin call even touched on Russia’s meddling in the election.

While the two may have danced around the sanctions issue for now, they did apparently discuss the improvement of economic and trade relations, which some members of the Duma consider to be a direct reference to a post-sanctions world.

“In order to fully develop economic relations, it is necessary to create an appropriate climate and legal conditions, and this calls for lifting sanctions,” said Dmitri Novikov, first deputy chairman of the Duma’s committee on international affairs.

Some Republican leaders have preemptively warned Trump that they will oppose efforts by his administration to lift sanctions.

It certainly sounds like the call did not end in the immediate disillusionment of either Trump with Putin or Putin with Trump. In fact, Trump’s a lot more popular in the Russian media — and gets more respect — than he does at home.

Trump is certainly getting respect from the Russian media, which is running televised segments defending the president from the “immoral” American press; op-eds (since removed) argued that only Russians should be allowed to report on American politics, a stance surely in tune with White House chief strategist and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon, who has said the media should “keep its mouth shut.”

Peskov said that the two presidents are likely to meet at some point before the G20 summit in July in Hamburg.

Photo credit: SERGEI ILNITSKY/AFP/Getty Images

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