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Donald Trump Goes His Own Way With Vladimir Putin


Donald Trump made an unusual public overture to Russian President Vladimir Putin in June 2013, trying to gin up publicity for an event he was co-hosting that year.

“Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow—if so, will he become my new best friend?” the real estate magnate tweeted.

That appeal came less than 24 hours after President Barack Obama and Mr. Putin held a tense, unproductive meeting at a summit of world leaders in Northern Ireland, as they sparred over how to de-escalate the conflict in Syria. “Our positions do not fully coincide,” Mr. Putin said tersely afterward.

Mr. Trump, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, has proposed redrawing a wide range of U.S. policies, including tax and immigration rules, trade agreements and engagement in the Middle East. But in no area has he been more persistent—and perhaps more consistent—than his call to improve relations with Mr. Putin, an authoritarian figure often at odds with the U.S.

Mr. Trump’s views on Mr. Putin separate him not just from Mr. Obama but from his former GOP rivals, and from conservatives as well as liberals. Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) called Mr. Putin a “gangster and a thug,” and Democratic front-funner Hillary Clinton has termed him a bully, while Mr. Trump calls him “very bright” and a “strong leader.”

“I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia—from a position of strength only—is possible, absolutely possible,” Mr. Trump said in a foreign-policy speech at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel in April. “Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”

A few minutes before he made those remarks, Mr. Trump met at a VIP reception with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak. Mr. Trump warmly greeted Mr. Kislyak and three other foreign ambassadors who came to the reception.

The origin of Mr. Trump’s affection for Russia is unclear. He traveled to Moscow in the 1990s in search of real-estate deals, but his company isn’t believed to have properties there. He said last week that his experience with Russian officials included hosting the 2013 Miss Universe event. He drew attention for floating the idea of a Trump Tower in Moscow, but the status of that project is also unclear.

Mr. Trump’s primary diplomatic goal regarding Russia appears to be to let Mr. Putin deal with problems in Syria and elsewhere in the Mideast, allowing the U.S. to disengage.

Some Republicans are expressing concern about presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump’s effect on down-ballot races this fall. WSJ’s Shelby Holliday explains what’s at stake in November. Photo: Associated Press

One proposal that has garnered positive Russian attention is Mr. Trump’s suggestion that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization focus on combating terrorism instead of deterring Russian aggression. That alarms officials in Ukraine and the Baltics, former Soviet states that fear they could become Mr. Putin’s next targets following Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian region of Crimea in early 2014.

The Kremlin has signaled it’s pleased


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