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Trump sends Putin a message in Syria but remains conflicted over Russia

Anita Kumar, Franco Ordonez and Kevin G. Hall, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- The United States' decision to conduct a military strike against the Russia-backed Syrian government Friday marks the latest in a series of actions that indicate President Donald Trump is beginning to move more aggressively against Russia, as his top advisers have urged.

But Trump still appears to be conflicted about his relationship with Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin.

James F. Collins, a U.S. ambassador to Russia in the 1990s, said Trump offered Russia its best hope of a better relationship but did not see any real overtures from Putin.

"In the last 15 months he has finally come to understand that it is going to be very difficult to do anything with Russia for the foreseeable future," Collins said. "There really have been almost no tangible or real signs after the first six months or so from the Russian side."

Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was imposing sanctions against seven Russians along with 12 companies they own or control and 17 senior Russian government officials.

Two days later, Trump called out Putin by name on Twitter for his backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose use of chemical weapons against his own civilians was the reason for Friday's airstrike, conducted by the U.S., Britain and France.

Russia has supported the Syrian government politically and militarily since the start of the nation's seven-year-old civil war started. Since 2011, Russia has vetoed resolutions in the United Nations Security Council that either called for Assad's resignation or sanctions against his government.

In his televised remarks announcing the strikes, Trump sent a message to Russia and Iran, Assad's key allies.

"Russia must decide if it will continue down this dark path," Trump said. And then added, as he had in a multi-tweet statement earlier in the week: "Hopefully someday we'll get along with Russia ... but maybe not," he said.

Just last month, Trump invited Putin to Washington for a meeting at the White House.

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