President Trump has reportedly declined to sign-off on proposed additional sanctions against Russia for the Kremlin's support of Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime, contradicting the US ambassador to the UN
Nikki Haley announced at the weekend that Monday would see new sanctions approved against Russia as part of a strategy to send a “strong message” concerning the consequences for the Assad regime and its supporters following alleged chemical attacks.
Speaking on Sunday, Haley said: “I think everyone is going to feel it at this point. We wanted their friends Iran and Russia to know that we meant business and that they were going to be feeling the pain from this as well.”
The ambassador went on to explain that companies dealing with equipment related to Syria's chemical weapons programme would be targeted.
Haley's comments were met with outrage from Moscow, with Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov stating that “the sanction campaign against Russia is truly assuming the nature of an obsessive idea,” according to Interfax.
The Trump administration moved to reassure Russia that sanctions were not on the table, characterising Haley's comments as misstatements.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “the president has been clear that he's going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he'd still like to have a good relationship with them.”
Foreign policy analysts have been quick to highlight the mishap as another entry in the increasingly extensive library of evidence of the administration's struggle to nail down a firm strategy for dealing with Moscow.
Stephen Sestanovich, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations and Columbia University who served as ambassador to former Soviet states in the 1990s, said: “Trump seems to think that if he accepts what his advisers recommend on even days of the month and rejects their recommendations on odd days, the result will be a strategy.”
Among other incidents, the erratic relationship between the Trump administration and Putin's Russia has seen the President congratulating Putin for his reelection, in what has been widely regarded as a sham contest, and subsequently enforcing two rounds of sanctions following the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury.
“By and large, other governments don't know whether to laugh or cry at all this. But in Russia, laughter is getting the upper hand,” Sestanovich concluded.