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Getting the most out of the Russia summit

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Following the Soviet Union’s collapse and a decade of economic turmoil, which reduced Russian regional and global influence, President Vladimir Putin embarked on a Russia resurgent strategy. Keenly aware that what most threatens his regime security are western ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy, Putin wants his brand of KGB authoritarianism to be perceived as equal in stature to the United States.

The Kremlin devotes the lion’s share of its military and espionage resources to targeting its “Main Enemy” the United States, its NATO allies and aspiring NATO members. The Kremlin brazenly violated the territorial integrity of Georgia and Ukraine, launched a massive cyber attack against Estonia, meddled in the U.S. presidential and European elections, and reinvigorated its influence in Latin America and the Middle East. Russia’s cyber attacks on U.S. social media and networking sites were, in national security adviser John Bolton’s words, “an act of war” and the “political equivalent of 9/11,” according to Michael Morell, former acting director of the CIA.  

{mosads}Russia’s alleged poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury resulted in the closure of diplomatic facilities and diplomatic expulsions.


Putin’s nefarious policies have driven the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship to levels of distrust and animosity unprecedented since the Cold War. Since the 1991 dissolution of the USSR, NATO has expanded its mission, most notably to Afghanistan after invoking Article 5 for the first and only time following al Qaeda’s attack on our homeland. But it is NATO’s common defense against Russian military, economic, cyber and espionage that is more important today than anytime since Putin seized power almost two decades ago.   

Putin has continued the Soviet strategy of trying to drive a wedge between the United States and NATO, with particular focus on breaking the U.S.-Germany relationship.  

President Trump understandably wants all NATO members to spend the equivalent of 2 percent of their gross domestic products on defense — and they should, given the enormity of national security threats, starting with Russia, to which NATO is subjected.   We should be cognizant there are other metrics for judging NATO members’ commitment, including their troop and equipment contributions to global security, training, and peacekeeping missions, many in dangerous conflict zones, as well as personnel killed in action.

Of greatest importance is reminding Putin that the United States is committed to leading NATO, which would reassure some of our most steadfast allies on the front lines, including Poland, the Baltic States and Ukraine, which is under siege from a Russian cyber, military, and economic onslaught.

In a recent MSNBC interview, retired CIA Director John Brennan said, “Russians will feign sincerity better than anyone I’ve ever dealt with in my life. … I think Mr. Trump is not sophisticated enough, unfortunately, to deal with these foreign leaders in a manner that is going to protect U.S. national security interests. I think he’s naive in these issues.”   Brennan’s admonition would have sounded less hypocritical and partisan if he referenced lessons learned from the Obama administration’s ill-fated “reset” policy and failure to hold Russia accountable with serious and timely countermeasures against Russia’s 2016 election meddling and violations of the 2015 Vienna Accords on Syria.  

In his face-to-face with Putin on July 16, President Trump has an opportunity, in the spirit of President Reagan, to hold Russia accountable for its nefarious activities, support the forces of democracy inside Russia, and press ahead on areas of mutual interest.  

Putin will never admit the Kremlin meddled in our election. We will need to take other action to deter and defend against Russia’s aggression in our cyberspace.  But Trump can go on the offensive by exposing Russia’s corrupt political process and shining the spotlight on democracy, which continues to be a guarantor of liberty and freedom in the West, even under the Kremlin’s assault.  

The summit can serve U.S. national security interests. On Syria, strategic partnership is out of the question, because Russia continues with Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to transform Syria into a humanitarian catastrophe and petri dish for Sunni and Shi’a extremism. But there are tactical issues on which our interests converge, including the fight against ISIS and ensuring that Syria does not spark a larger war between Israel and Iran.  

Putin has maintained an economic lifeline for North Korea, with an eye towards enabling Russia’s economic predation, blocking regime change and, at the very least, reducing if not eliminating the U.S. military footprint in the Korean Peninsula. We need to apply pressure on Russia to maintain sanctions, which Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has suggested ratcheting down before complete denuclearization.   

Negotiating an extension of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which is due to expire in February 2021, should be a priority in spite of Russia’s well-known violations in recent years. Russia remains the only country in the world capable of destroying the United States. As the Cold War demonstrated, arms control matters most when bilateral relations are contentious. Other areas of potential collaboration include counterterrorism, counterproliferation, and combating organized crime.  

President Trump can demonstrate how a multifaceted strategy can match the extraordinarily complex challenges of our bilateral relationship with Russia. The president would be serving our national interests, and the Republican Party he leads, if he does so successfully.

Daniel Hoffman is a former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA.

Tags Donald Trump International relations John Brennan Politics of Russia Russia–United States relations Vladimir Putin

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