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Former U.S. Ambassador To Russia On How Trump's Policies Compare To Obama's


And we're going to take a moment now to fact-check a claim on Russia. President Trump on Tuesday tweeted this - quote, "I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama. Just look at the facts." Well, we're going to do just that, and we have asked Michael McFaul to help us out. He was the American ambassador to Russia under President Obama, and he's now a professor at Stanford from where he joins me now.

Hey, there.

MICHAEL MCFAUL: Hey, thanks for having me.

KELLY: I should start by acknowledging the obvious, which is that you're not a neutral observer in this having served in the Obama administration. But you have deep and firsthand knowledge, which is valuable here. So I want to start with asking just what's your gut reaction to that statement from President Trump - that he has been tougher on Russia than Obama?

MCFAUL: Well, my gut reaction is that - and this is going to offend everybody in the Obama camp and the Trump camp - is that I actually see more continuity between President Obama's policy on Russia and Trump's policy on Russia than most other people do.

KELLY: You don't think it's that different?

MCFAUL: If you look at the concrete policy of sanctioning Russia for bad behavior - be it in Ukraine or our elections - strengthening NATO, supporting Ukraine, the fundamental pieces of the Obama policy at the end of his administration are basically in place today.

KELLY: Now since Trump assumed the presidency, Congress has passed a new sanctions bill, which so far the Trump administration has chosen not to enforce. They haven't announced new sanctions, at least so far. And they've been criticized for that by Republicans and Democrats who say this shows that President Trump is soft on Russia. What do you think?

MCFAUL: Well, I basically agree with that. To dig into the weeds a bit of that new law, it doesn't compel the administration to put in place new sanctions. It really just tied his hands to not undermine the Obama-era sanctions. He signed it not to be tough on Russia. He lamented the fact that he was signing it. So that doesn't send a very tough message back to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin.

KELLY: President Trump has not himself called out Russia, but officials who serve him do. His national security adviser H.R. McMaster just did, for example. Do you see a disconnect between what the president says and what his administration actually does when it comes to Russia?

MCFAUL: I think there's a fundamental disconnect. I was in the audience with H.R. McMaster in Munich when he made those remarks. Not only do many of his senior officials say things differently - tougher on Russia - but the policy is tougher. But when it comes to the president, for whatever reason, he never criticizes Vladimir Putin for the things he's done ever. And it's I think a big disconnect between the rhetoric of the president himself and the policy of the Trump administration more generally.

KELLY: Before I let you go, what is the end goal with Russia? I mean, when we speak of a president - whether it's President Trump, President Obama - getting tough on Russia, that's in the service of what?

MCFAUL: And I think this is another place where President Trump is sometimes confused. I think he gets mixed up in his head the difference between means and ends. The means could be engagement, getting tough, isolating. But the ends have to be things very concrete - things like, we would like to see Russia leave Eastern Ukraine. We would like to see Russia stop interfering in our electoral politics. Those are very concrete objectives - American national security objectives. The means may change over time depending on what the issue is, and that's the tough or not get tough. But to have a, quote, unquote, "good relationship" with Russia or Putin or any country for that matter, I think is always the incorrect way to think about American national security policy and American foreign policy.

KELLY: Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Obama. Michael, thank you.

MCFAUL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.