Trump Has Handed Putin Major Victories in Syria and Ukraine 'Without Receiving Anything in Return,' says Former Ambassador to Russia

A former U.S. ambassador to Russia has said that President Donald Trump is being consistently bested by Russian President Vladimir Putin on the foreign policy battlefield, handing the strongman leader multiple geopolitical victories while getting nothing for the U.S. in return.

Trump is currently grappling with two foreign policy scandals: His efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating 2020 rival Joe Biden by withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid, and his abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from northeastern Syria which left America's Kurdish-led allies defenseless in the face of a Turkish invasion.

In both cases, the fallout has directly benefited Russia while undermining America's global standing. His conduct regarding Ukraine—which sparked an impeachment investigation—has undermined relations between Washington and Kiev and smeared Ukraine's international image.

And in Syria, the U.S. has abdicated its position of influence, come into conflict with a NATO ally and allowed the Syrian regime, Russia and Iran to fill the power vacuum Washington left behind.

"Trump has personalized, privatized, and deinstitutionalized foreign policy to the detriment of the national interest," Michael McFaul—who was posted to Moscow from 2012 to 2014—wrote in an op-ed for Foreign Affairs.

He branded Ukraine and Syria "disastrous missteps" from which "the American public has suffered, U.S. allies have lost, and U.S. adversaries have gained—none more so than Russian President Vladimir Putin."

McFaul was critical of the president's wider foreign policy approach, terming it a "withdrawal doctrine."

Trump has consistently displayed disdain for multilateral agreements and bodies, from NATO to NAFTA to the Paris climate accord. The president has also pulled the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal and the Cold-War era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia.

The situation has been exacerbated by the attrition of moderate foreign policy influences within his administration, McFaul argued. The so-called "adults" included former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, former Chief of Staff John Kelly and former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster.

All have fallen by the wayside, replaced with Trump loyalists who facilitate his increasingly erratic foreign policy instincts. His personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was even reportedly circumventing the State Department to direct the administration's Ukraine strategy.

McFaul noted that Trump's initial foreign policy did not differ too sharply from his predecessor. The U.S. military remained engaged in the Middle East and disputes with China remained centered on trade. Trump did not suddenly align the U.S. with Russia as some had feared, and asserted—eventually—the administration's support for NATO.

But as his presidency has worn on, Trump's foreign policy has become more questionable, especially on anything involving Russia. "The Kremlin may, at long last, be getting what it wants," McFaul suggested.

The former ambassador said in the past year in particular, Trump has "eroded the normal national security decision-making process, marginalized the professionals who usually shape and execute U.S. foreign policy, and placed his private interests and ill-informed personal theories—often shaped by disinformation and conspiracy yarns—above all else."

"The result has been a disaster for U.S. national interests and a boon for Russia," McFaul added.

McFaul said Trump's now-infamous conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy "made clear his indifference to Ukraine's sovereignty and democratic consolidation. That's a win for Putin."

The interaction delivered several more wins for Putin, McFaul argued. Trump politicized and weakened American military assistance to Ukraine, the recording depicted Zelenskiy as a deferential and weak leader, and Trump's subsequent defense of his actions by casting Ukraine as riddled with corruption and intrigue further damaged the country's reputation.

In Syria, McFaul said Trump's "misguided" decision has sown fresh tensions between Turkey and its NATO allies, bolstered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who the West long sought to topple, and strengthened the positions of Russia, Iran and their proxies.

"In the two biggest arenas of U.S.-Russian conflict over the last decade—Ukraine and Syria—Trump has just handed Putin and his allies major victories, without a fight and without receiving anything in return," McFaul concluded.

Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Michael McFaul, Russia
President Donald Trump is pictured with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their bilateral meeting at the G20 Osaka Summit 2019, in Osaka, Japan on June, 28, 2019. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images/Getty