What has emerged over the past year is a two-track US policy: resumption of contacts between the two presidents with a promise of more summits and reopening of discussion channels on a number of issues at the same time as there has been an escalation of sanctions
In 2017-2018, there were two significant developments in US-Russian relations. The first was the re-establishment of contacts at the highest level, with the meetings between Presidents Putin and Trump in Hamburg and Helsinki. Both leaders agreed that they had made progress on reinvigorating discussion channels on Syria, arms control, strategic stability and Ukraine, although details of their discussions were scarce. The challenge will be to organize these working groups and flesh out the discussions. There is also talk of a high-level business dialogue and an experts group to discuss a broader framework for bilateral relations going forward.
The other significant development is the actions of the US Executive branch and the US Congress. The executive branch has announced the imposition of a number of different sanctions, from the closing of Russian consulates in the San Francisco and Seattle to the expulsion of diplomats. The Russian side has reciprocated by expelling US diplomats and embassy personnel and closing the consulate in St. Petersburg. There have also been a variety of sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals in response to a range of issues, from Russian election interference to the Skripal poisonings in the UK Congress has imposed its own sanctions legislation and promises more.
What has emerged over the past year is a two-track US policy: resumption of contacts between the two presidents with a promise of more summits and reopening of discussion channels on a number of issues at the same time as there has been an escalation of sanctions. The Mueller inquiry into Russian actions in 2016 and into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians continues to cast a shadow over the relationship, and will for some time to come.
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