If you turned on the TV this morning, you probably couldn’t help but see the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had failed to disclose meetings he had with the Russian Ambassador last fall when asked at his confirmation hearing. Legislators from both parties quickly seized on the story to argue that Sessions should recuse himself from any probes into Russian interference in the elections, with some prominent Democrats even suggesting he resign.
While the press remains consumed with the Sessions story, however, they have largely ignored one that holds more significance for actual Russian policymaking: namely, the appointment of Putin hawk Fiona Hill as the White House Senior Director for Europe and Russia. Foreign Policy reports:
The decision to hire Fiona Hill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, for one of the government’s top jobs dealing with U.S.-Russia relations is likely to earn bipartisan praise in Congress where Republicans and Democrats have expressed mounting unease with the Trump administration’s apparent contacts with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. […]
Hill, a dual U.S.-UK citizen and former U.S. intelligence officer from 2006 to 2009, has written critically of Putin’s autocratic tendencies and desire of a “weakened U.S. presidency.”
Since President Donald Trump’s election in November, she has dismissed the possibility of a dramatic rapprochement with Russia given the inherent differences between Washington and Moscow. “The Russians will get all giddy with expectations, and then they’ll be dashed, like, five minutes into the relationship because the U.S. and Russia just have a very hard time … being on the same page,” she told The Atlantic in November.
For those genuinely concerned about the Russia threat, Hill is exactly the kind of person one would want in the White House. She has immense credibility as both a Russia scholar and an experienced intelligence official, and she brings an unsentimental understanding of the Kremlin’s inner workings to bear on her role. Hill’s book Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin is easily one of the best studies of Putin’s motivations and machinations at the head of the Russian state.
Between Defense Secretary Mattis, National Security Adviser McMaster, and now Fiona Hill, Trump is stacking his security team with seasoned Russia hawks who are deeply skeptical about Moscow’s intentions. And the White House already seems to be readjusting to the reality that a major reset is not in the cards. According to Senator Bob Corker, who was an early contender to be Trump’s Secretary of State, Trump’s expectations for cooperation with Russia are “hugely diminishing,” and the prospects of a “grand bargain” with Putin seem increasingly faint.