Trump still wants ‘good relationship’ with Russia
DONALD Trump wants to maintain a "good relationship" with Russia, according to the White House, despite his previous vow to be tougher than anyone on Vladimir Putin's regime.
After his ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned on Sunday that sanctions were imminent, she was undercut on Monday by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who said they were merely being "considered".
In the afternoon, Ms Sanders told reporters on Air Force One: "The President has been clear that he's going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he'd still like to have a good relationship with them."
Another White House official told the New York Times Mr Trump had decided not to go forward with the sanctions, believing them unnecessary because Moscow's response to the strike on Syria was largely bluster.
The US President had appeared to strengthen his stance on Russia after its support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad following his chemical attack on his own people. Mr Trump named Mr Putin as "responsible for backing Animal Assad" and warned of a "big price" to pay.
Russia initially promised to shoot Western missiles directed at Syria out of the sky as the US, United Kingdom and France planned the retaliatory strike on Mr Assad's chemical weapons facilities.
Mr Trump tweeted that Russia should "get ready" on Twitter, and "shouldn't be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!"
But he almost immediately backtracked with more conciliatory tweets, saying there was "no reason" for the United States and Russia to have such a bad relationship. He blamed the "fake and corrupt" investigation into Russia's alleged US election meddling for the "bad blood".
'NOBODY'S BEEN TOUGHER THAN DONALD TRUMP'
Mr Trump has previously boasted that, "Probably nobody's been tougher on Russia than Donald Trump." But his actions show he is more conflicted over his stance than other members of his administration.
Ms Haley has made it clear she believes Moscow needs to be controlled, but the very public smackdown to her sanctions announcement may mean she needs to restrain herself.
The US appeared to crack down hard on Russia when it expelled 60 Russian diplomats after the alleged poisoning of a former spy on British soil. But the Washington Post reported that Mr Trump was shocked and dismayed when he learnt that France and Germany were only expelling four each.
He reportedly swore and shouted that he had only wanted to match, not exceed, the punishment meted out by other nations.
When told the European total was roughly the same as that of the US, he reportedly screamed: "I don't care about the total!"
Afterwards, Mr Trump said he believed he "could have a very good relationship with Russia and with President Putin" and that would be "a great thing".
Earlier this month, he agreed to two rounds of sanctions against Russia, prompting the Kremlin to accuse the US of an "obsession" and threaten a "harsh response."
Insiders say Mr Trump's attitude towards Russia is very different to that of his advisers, with the US President congratulating Mr Putin on his controversial re-election, despite a note from aides telling him not to do so, and suggesting a White House meeting.
But he is reportedly under pressure from senior staff, including CIA Director Mike Pompeo, to be more sceptical about the regime, which also recently drew international criticism for supporting aggressions in Ukraine and the Crimea.
A protester met Mr Trump on Monday in Florida with a banner reading: "Russian stooge."
PUTTING ON THE CHARM
Mr Trump makes a point of cultivating personal relationships with world leaders, including China's Xi Jinping, in order to achieve his goals. He has previously complained that the Robert Mueller investigation into alleged Russian election meddling was making it impossible for him to "put on the charm". He has furiously denied accusations of collusion. Former FBI director James Comey said in an interview promoting his book on Sunday that he thought "it's possible" the President had been compromised by Russia over alleged encounters with prostitutes.
Experts believe Moscow is likely to interfere in the midterms later this year. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said earlier this month that he was certain hackers were working on a "version two" of the alleged Russian meddling from 2016, and that the company needed to "get in front of" the new tactics.
Syria continued to bomb rebel-held towns after the Western strike, and while Russia has not responded with force, experts noticed a spike in malicious cyber activity by the country.
A "significant number" of Australian organisations were affected by the attack, according to Minister for Law Enforcement and Cyber Security Angus Taylor.
"This attempt by Russia is a sharp reminder that Australian businesses and individuals are constantly targeted by malicious state and non-state actors, and we must maintain rigorous cyber security practices," Mr Taylor said yesterday.
It comes after a joint alert on the attacks from the US Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United Kingdom's National Cyber Security Centre warning small-office and home-office customers had been impacted.
"Russian state-sponsored actors are using compromised routers to conduct spoofing 'man-in-the-middle' attacks to support espionage, extract intellectual property, maintain persistent access to victim networks, and potentially lay a foundation for future offensive operations," the statement read.
The allies allege "state-sponsored" Russian hackers infected commercially available routers around the world in a campaign that focused on government agencies, infrastructure and businesses.
"The activity highlighted today is part of a repeated pattern of disruptive and harmful malicious cyber action carried out by the Russian government," alleged Howard Marshall, FBI Deputy Assistant Director. "We do not make this attribution lightly and will hold steadfast with our partners."
Ciaran Martin, CEO of the National Cyber Security Centre, said the allied announcement was a first in tackling Russian espionage, and won't be the last.
"This is the first time that in attributing a cyber attack to Russia the US and the UK have, at the same time, issued joint advice to industry about how to manage the risks from the attack," he said.
"It marks an important step in our fight back against state-sponsored aggression in cyberspace."