Donald Trump today called it a ‘very sad situation.’ The ‘it’ in question is of course the chemical weapons attack in Salisbury, a fresh indicator, if one were needed, of malign Russian intentions toward the West. Even as Theresa May plays, or tries to play, Margaret Thatcher, Trump has been no Ronald Reagan. He doesn’t want anyone ‘Russian to judgment’, as the joke has it. Instead, when it comes to Moscow, he’s been missing in action, no friend of the United Kingdom. He’s sounded in fact more like the equivocating Jeremy Corbyn than anyone else when it comes to the brouhaha over Salisbury.
So the announcement this morning that the Trump administration will institute fresh sanctions, as mandated by Congress, against 19 Russian individuals—13 of whom were previously indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller—and five Russian entities came as something of a surprise. The St. Petersburg Internet Research Agency, however, is hardly quaking over the new sanctions. Nor is the oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is known as ‘Putin’s chef.’ For Vladimir Putin, the administration’s move will help to motivate his base to show up en masse for Sunday’s presidential election.
Meanwhile Trump will soon surely resume casting doubt that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Word is that he would like to quash the Mueller investigation by sacking attorney general Jeff Sessions and replacing him with EPA head Scott Pruitt. But the outcry this would trigger could turn it into a very sad situation for Trump himself.