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Opinion President Trump is committed to defending the U.S., and Russia knows it

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Trump meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, on June 28, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Robert C. O’Brien is the national security adviser to President Trump.

Ronald Reagan is looking down on us with a knowing smile. Like Reagan, President Trump strives for good relations with all nations, including Russia. But no nation, including Russia, should doubt the president’s commitment to defending the United States and our allies.

President Trump has demonstrated to Russia that he means what he says about putting “America First.” If recently reported allegations of Russian malign activity toward Americans in Afghanistan prove true, Russia knows from experience that it will pay a price — even if that price never becomes public.

Two weeks ago, President Trump imposed additional sanctions against Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin, who owns both the Internet Research Agency, a troll farm that spread disinformation around the 2016 election, and the Wagner Group, whose mercenaries are deployed in Syria, Ukraine and Libya.

The president also announced new guidance to deter companies from assisting Russia with its Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream pipelines. Both projects would make our European partners more dependent on Russian energy, giving Moscow dangerous economic leverage over Europe.

These steps are unfortunately necessary given Russian actions that threaten the United States and its allies. This includes interfering in Western democratic elections in 2016 and 2017; propping up brutal regimes in Syria and Venezuela; engaging in cyberattacks on America and its allies; violating important arms treaties; and attempting to kill Sergei Skripal, a British subject, with a military-grade nerve agent.

In response to this conduct, the Trump administration imposed sanctions on hundreds of Russian entities. These targets include key Russian oligarchs and their companies, senior Russian government officials and a state-owned Russian weapons trading company.

President Trump has also sanctioned two branches of Rosneft, a Russian state-owned oil company, for operating in Venezuela in support of the illegitimate Maduro regime.

On the cyber front, the administration charged three Russians for the 2014 Yahoo hack, including two officers of the Russian Federal Security Service. It also banned the use of Kaspersky Lab software on government computers in light of the company’s ties to Russian intelligence.

In 2018, the United States publicized Russian military involvement in the worldwide NotPetya cyberattack and sanctioned five Russian entities and three individuals for their roles in the incident. In 2020, the United States publicly attributed cyberattacks against the republic of Georgia to Russian military intelligence (GRU) and released a cybersecurity advisory against GRU malware.

In light of the Skripal attack and other intelligence operations, President Trump cracked down on Russian intelligence operations in the United States. In September 2017, the administration closed the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, a consular annex in New York and a chancery annex in Washington. In April 2018, the United States shut down the Russian Consulate in Seattle and expelled 60 Russian intelligence officers from the country.

When Russia violated two arms control treaty agreements, President Trump withdrew from them. The United States exited the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty in August 2019 and announced our withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty in May. In doing so, President Trump made clear we will not remain in treaties violated by the other side.

The president is also investing in U.S. capabilities at a level never before seen. His administration provided states with nearly $800 million in election assistance. It also established federal councils to increase coordination among government and private-sector providers of voting and registration systems.

To deter Russian aggression and defend our NATO allies, President Trump has provided billions in additional funding for the European Deterrence Initiative. And to assist Ukraine, the administration sent critical self-defense weapons, including the long-sought-after Javelin antitank missiles.

President Trump knows that peace comes through strength. Accordingly, his administration has embarked upon a historic rebuilding of the U.S. military. That includes the largest military pay raise in a decade and the establishment of the U.S. Space Force, the first new military branch since the 1940s, among other priorities.

In June, the United States commenced talks with Russia on the New START accord. The United States is cautiously optimistic that we can reach an agreement with Moscow and China on a framework for arms control that seeks to limit all nuclear weapons in a verifiable manner. President Trump and President Vladimir Putin had a cordial call July 23 during which both leaders pledged their best efforts to extend New START and make it even better.

Another area of potential cooperation with Russia is counterterrorism. Both Russia and the United States have had their homelands attacked by violent extremists. U.S. officials will likely engage with their Russian intelligence and law enforcement counterparts on such matters in the coming months.

No president since Reagan has shown such resolve to Moscow. Like Reagan, President Trump seeks another path with Russia — one in which Russia refrains from aggression abroad and becomes a friendly partner to the United States and Europe. In such a world, sanctions on Russia would be unnecessary, and trade between our countries would flourish. Russians, Americans and the world would all benefit from such a relationship.

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