Top officials at the State Department have been shuttling back and forth from Europe, asserting a firm U.S. stance in response to two watershed political moments in Russia: the historic uprising in neighboring Belarus and the poisoning of Russia’s foremost opposition figure.

But at the White House, President Trump has exhibited a far more tepid reaction, saying he “likes seeing democracy” when asked about Belarus and failing to affirm that Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent. Keeping with a long-standing practice, he has not issued any rebukes or warnings to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The situation shows how, faced with two of the biggest political events to shake Russia in years, the Trump administration has fallen back on a familiar pattern: U.S. diplomats are mounting a hawkish response, even as Trump articulates a more Moscow-friendly message. The result is a paucity of presidential leadership — and mixed messages to allies and adversaries.

“This is the story of the Trump administration,” said Angela Stent, a Russia scholar at Georgetown University. “We have this bifurcated Russia policy, where the president clearly has his agenda to improve relations with Moscow, but he hasn’t been able to implement it because it’s such a politically sensitive subject. And then you have the State Department and Defense Department with a much tougher and more consistent policy.”

Stent said the same response had been on display in recent weeks, as the administration reacted to the uprising in Belarus and Navalny’s poisoning. “The president won’t say whether Navalny has been poisoned, and on Belarus he won’t say anything that’s critical of Putin,” Stent said. “He’s ready to criticize Germany or [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, who wants to import Russian gas, but not Putin.”

The administration has made the No. 2 official at the State Department, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun, the point person on Russia. In recent weeks, he has met with officials in Moscow and Europe, as well as members of the Belarusian opposition, in a round of crisis diplomacy.

A former Ford Motor lobbyist and veteran Republican aide on Capitol Hill, Biegun has won praise from Democrats and Republicans for staking out a hawkish position toward the Kremlin in the role.

On a Sept. 11 call with reporters, Biegun criticized the Russian government for its failure to launch a thorough investigation into what he said was the use of a banned nerve agent on its own territory against a Russian citizen.

“It is unbelievable to us that this would happen on the territory of any country and the government would not react with the appropriate urgency to investigate and hold accountable those who committed the crime,” Biegun said.

The Russian government has rejected allegations of Kremlin involvement in the poisoning.

In Belarus, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for the sixth week in a row last weekend to protest an Aug. 9 presidential election they believed was rigged by President Alexander Lukashenko, the former Soviet collective farm boss who has ruled the nation for 26 years. The protesters argue that Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the wife of a jailed opposition figure, prevailed in the flawed election and should become the nation’s next president.

In Europe, Biegun met with Tikhanovskaya, who fled to neighboring Lithuania in the wake of the election amid pressure from Belarusian authorities. Biegun has committed to new sanctions on Belarusian officials in response to the human rights abuses against demonstrators but has said the leader of the nation is for the Belarusian people to decide.

“The Belarusian people are entitled to a free and fair election in which they choose their own leaders, and they were denied that opportunity on August 9th. There is no legitimacy delivered to the ruler of Belarus by the August 9th election,” Biegun said in the call last week. He has urged authorities in Belarus to negotiate with the opposition and hold a new election under independent observation.

Behind the scenes, Biegun and other senior State Department officials have pushed European allies to uniformly condemn the attack on Navalny and Lukashenko’s actions.

Earlier this month, NATO’s principal decision-making body condemned Navalny’s poisoning in the “strongest possible terms” given the use of a “nerve agent from the banned Novichok group.”

Some nations in the 30-member alliance opposed issuing a statement, and some sought softer language, including France, but the United States pushed members to approve the tougher wording, according to diplomats familiar with the internal deliberations.

U.S. officials have also held a tough line with Moscow at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a multilateral organization in which Russia is a member, diplomats said.

“Biegun is a godsend,” said a European diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss diplomatic conversations. “While you’d normally hope to see a firm public stance from a U.S. president, no one’s under any illusion that Trump would be that messenger, so we’re content with Biegun.”

But Biegun’s diplomacy has been overshadowed by the mixed messages and relative silence from Trump.

Trump has said little about the protests in Belarus, noting that he “likes seeing democracy” and that “it doesn’t seem like it’s too much democracy there,” and separately describing the situation as “terrible.”

Two days after Merkel presented what she called “unequivocal proof” that Navalny was poisoned with a chemical similar to the Soviet-era nerve agent Novachok, possibly implicating the Russian government, Trump said he didn’t know what happened to the Russian opposition figure.

“I don’t know exactly what happened,” Trump said on Sept. 4. “I think it’s — it’s tragic. It’s terrible. It shouldn’t happen. We haven’t had any proof yet, but I will take a look.”

Some 26 days since the poisoning, the United States has yet to issue any formal government assessment, and Trump hasn’t brought up the matter with Putin, according to the records of his calls that are publicly available. On Tuesday, Navalny posted a photo of himself in a German hospital and said he was able to breathe on his own after weeks on a ventilator.

“Biegun made the stops I would have made. He saw the people I would have seen. He hit all the marks,” said Daniel Fried, a former top U.S. diplomat who is now a fellow at the Atlantic Council. “The question is, if you are listening to him and you are a European diplomat. … Does this guy speak for the administration or does he speak for that part of the administration that is other than Donald Trump?”

Critics say Trump has offered confusing statements about U.S. priorities following Navalny’s poisoning, pointing to his reluctance to condemn the incident as a chemical weapon poisoning possibly involving the Russian state. Trump told reporters on Sept. 4 at the White House that “we’re right now negotiating a nuclear nonproliferation treaty, which is very important.”

“It’s a very important thing,” Trump said of the talks. “To me, it’s the most important thing.”

He asked reporters why they weren’t questioning him more about China instead.

Biegun later clarified that the United States can pursue nuclear negotiations with Russia aimed at extending and expanding the New START accord and manage issues related to Belarus and Navalny at the same time.

“Nobody in the United States is linking our positions on either the theft of the elections and the brutal violence in Belarus nor the tragic poisoning of Alexei Navalny to any other — any other matters, New START or negotiations or anything else,” he said last week.

When asked about Navalny’s poisoning, Trump was quick to point out that he had good relations with Putin, even though his administration had taken tough measures against Russia.

Trump briefly used the question about Navalny to criticize Germany for proceeding with Nord Stream 2, a pipeline set to carry Russian gas to Europe that the Trump administration has opposed.

Andrew S. Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former top Russia official in the Clinton administration, said an administration has a Russia policy only insofar as the president supports it.

“There’s no Russia policy beyond that which [Trump] is willing to put his name on,” Weiss said. “In theory, the U.S. should be shaping the West’s policy toward Russia. What we have seen, as we get closer to the election, is there is no effective U.S. policy toward Russia, let alone the ability to rally others behind us.”

Anne Gearan contributed to this report.