At first glance it seems strange that US President Donald Trump would be cozying up to Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin. After all, not only has Russia (under the Soviets) been a traditional adversary of the US, but Putin himself has basically destroyed democracy (such as it was) in Russia, and has turned it into an authoritarian dictatorship. In doing so he has murdered about 30 journalists as well as numerous politicians. His chief opponent, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated in broad daylight in the center of Moscow in 2015. A clear warning to anyone thinking of opposing Putin. He has also expanded Russian power and influence by annexing the Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine and essentially taking over Syria. All this you would think, in a conventional sense, would make Putin an enemy of the US and of Trump.
But, consider what could be behind this strange coupling. My explanation is one word – China. In the current ranking of Gross Domestic Product (GDP; i.e total size of the economy), the US is of course ranked #1, and second comes China, and China’s economy has been growing at a phenomenal rate (of 5-10% pa). In the IMF listing of countries Russia comes 12th in this category. So from the point of view of competition or rivalry for world-wide domination based on economic factors, China must be seen as the major competitor for the US, not Russia. This is why we have seen Pres. Trump emphasizing tariffs that are intended to make a fair playing field with China, because Chinese leaders have been manipulating their currency and their tariffs to gain advantage over the US, that previous Presidents had essentially ignored.
On the other hand, in the list of most powerful countries in the world, published annually by US News and World Report, after the US, Russia comes second, and China is third. If you had to choose which country to be friendly with in order to avoid an international conflict and yet improve your relative situation, I submit that it would be better to choose Russia and not China. China has embraced capitalism (although with an authoritarian system of government) and although it has expansive plans regarding the area of the South China Sea, there is no doubt that Russia under Putin is more expansionist.
I believe Trump’s apparent cozying up to Putin accomplishes two things: first, it sends a message to China that it is possible that the two most powerful states on earth, the US and Russia, can combine against it; second, it attempts to disarm Russia to some extent by undermining the traditional anti-Western views of the rulers of Russia. This is hard-ball power politics on the international stage. You certainly don’t want China and Russia to be allies against the US. Trump is flexing US muscle and playing the game according to new rules.