MOSCOW — Russia has reacted defensively and cautiously this week after the resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was considered among the most Kremlin-friendly in the new administration.
Russia’s initial euphoria when Trump took office is fading after Flynn’s resignation and Trump’s call for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine. Russia considered Flynn key to promoting improved relations with the United States.
“I think that it worries Russian lawmakers and Russian policymakers because he has been considered to be one of very few pro-Russian American politicians,” said Pavel Sharikov, with the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies.
While the Kremlin called Flynn’s resignation a U.S. internal matter, Russian lawmakers described it as politically motivated against Russia.
“Yes, Flynn wrote in his report that he did not tell the president about his contacts with the leadership of the Russian embassy in the USA.,” said the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee at Russia’s State Duma Leonid Slutsky. “But this may be some sort of political and informational action, which was prepared in advance.”
Officials bluntly dismissed the Trump White House calling on Russia, for the first time, to de-escalate violence in Ukraine and return the Crimean peninsula that Moscow annexed in 2014.
“We do not give back our own territory,” said Russia’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Crimea is territory belonging to the Russian Federation. That is it.”
U.S. lawmakers critical of Trump are not taking any chances; they introduced a bill to block the president from lifting sanctions against Russia over Ukraine without congressional approval.
A Kremlin spokesman denied a New York Times report of contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian intelligence agents, which Trump also dismissed the allegations as “nonsense.”
“This is purely a newspaper report which is not based on any facts. And which does not point to any real facts,” said Dmitry Peskov.
Some are calling for a deeper inquiry into White House ties to Russia.
Russians are still hopeful that relations with the United States will improve under Trump, but they also are increasingly cautious as the controversy and political turmoil play out.
“We do not know what line he will choose, but Crimea is Russian for sure,” said accountant Alexandra. “I do not know how he will carry on, but I hope for the better. I hope that we will have good relations with America.”
Adding to tensions are allegations the Kremlin violated a missile treaty with the United States, positioned spy ships off the U.S. East Coast and had Russian jets buzzed a U.S. Navy ship in the Black Sea.
The Kremlin dismissed the allegations, and President Trump made no immediate comment.