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Trump and Putin are already talking about Syria

by Alex Thompson
Nov 14 2016, 5:02pm

President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a “settlement for the crisis in Syria” over the phone Monday, according to a statement released by the Kremlin. The statement also said Putin and Trump agreed that current relations between their two countries were “unsatisfactory.”

The call comes less than a week after Putin congratulated Trump, by way of a telegram, on his surprise victory in the U.S. presidential election. The Kremlin said the Russian leader had expressed a desire for the two powers to move away “from their crisis state.”

If Monday’s call is any indication, such efforts are already underway.

Though Trump’s presidential transition team was less forthcoming on the details of Monday’s call, they released a statement that the president-elect was “very much looking forward to having a strong and enduring relationship with Russia and the people of Russia.”

Trump came under fire during the campaign for repeatedly praising the Russian president, who has a history of persecuting political opponents and journalists. “At least he’s a leader,” Trump said of Putin in 2015, “unlike what what we have in this country.” The warm feelings appeared to be mutual when Putin returned the praise, calling Trump “bright and talented.”

The president-elect’s repeated dings at NATO throughout the campaign, along with his seeming indifference to Putin’s aggressions in Ukraine, caused many European leaders to worry about what his presidency would mean for the alliance’s future.

Trump and his campaign’s alleged relationship with the Russian leader caused further worry among several former high-ranking government officials throughout the presidential campaign. “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” former acting CIA Director Michael Morell wrote in August. The following month, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote: “Mr. Trump’s expression of admiration for the man [Putin] and his authoritarian regime are naive and irresponsible.”

Trump and his campaign’s relationship with Russia came under further scrutiny when many top officials in the U.S. intelligence community said they believed Russia-aligned actors hacked into the email of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John D. Podesta. Those emails then appeared on the website WikiLeaks and continued to dog the Democratic nominee for the final month of the campaign.

Trump will come into office as diplomatic relationships between the two nuclear powers are at a low point. The United States has repeatedly been frustrated by Russia’s military incursions into both Ukraine and Syria. The Russian government’s support for the Bashar Assad regime in Syria, the U.S. government argues, has perpetuated the brutal conflict that has cost 600,000 lives. And in October, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called for a war crimes investigation of Russian and Syrian government–led airstrikes in the besieged city of Aleppo.

As of late Monday, it was unclear who initiated the call.