Amid Kremlin Victories, Putin Fails to Persuade West on Russian Sancti…


But the failure to make progress in freeing the Russian economy from the sanctions is a setback for Mr. Putin both domestically and globally.

In Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin and some in the Kremlin thought they had a get-out-of-sanctions-free card. Despite the lack of concrete agreements, the first summit meeting between the two leaders, in Helsinki, Finland, last month, reinforced Russian expectations that the American president would fulfill his campaign promise to mend ties.

“Many hoped that the Helsinki summit would reset U.S.-Russia relations, and if not help lift the existing sanctions, then at least avoid further rounds,” Maria Snegovaya, a United States-based Russia analyst and columnist for the newspaper Vedomosti, wrote in an email.

Much to the Kremlin’s dismay, however, the Trump administration has developed into a kind of pushmi-pullyu of the diplomatic world, acting toward Russia something like the two-headed llama of Dr. Doolittle fame. One head, in the form of Mr. Trump, repeatedly promises improved ties with Moscow, while the other, representing senior officials in his own administration and bipartisan sentiment in Congress, growls about new sanctions and other chastisements.

In Moscow, the policy zigzags prompted both confusion and anger as the Kremlin floundered to respond.

“People are bewildered because they keep getting very mixed signals about the state of relations,” said Andrei V. Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research group that advises the Kremlin.

The Kremlin’s standard response since the Crimea annexation has been to rally Russians around the flag, depicting the country as a besieged fortress. After four years, however, ordinary Russians find that formula tiresome, analysts said, and Mr. Putin’s declining popularity can be attributed partly to his inability to mend fences with the West.


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