US President-elect Donald Trump has called for a deal with Russia that would “very substantially” reduce nuclear arsenals and ease sanctions against Moscow, in an interview published by The Times. “They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it,” Trump said on Sunday. “But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit,” said the president-elect, who has previously expressed admiration for Russian leader Vladimir Putin. There were no details about the specific sanctions that Trump had in mind, or their range.
Under Barack Obama, the US applied various sanctions against Moscow for its involvement in Ukraine, the Syrian war and for alleged cyber attacks to influence the US election. Washington’s European allies imposed sanctions against Russia over Ukraine in 2014. Those measures were renewed on December 19. Trump’s comments were published hours after the outgoing CIA chief John Brennan warned the president-elect does not understand the challenges posed by Russia.
“I don’t think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russia’s intentions and actions,” Brennan told Fox News, prompting a swift rebuke from Trump. The president-elect has said it would be an “asset” if he gets along with Putin, while cautioning the duo may not become friendly. “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” Trump told a press conference on January 11. “I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t,” he added.
Trump was speaking in the wake of a report claiming Putin was behind a campaign of hacking and media manipulation aimed at boosting Trump’s election bid. The Director of National Intelligence report released on January 6 came just days ahead of the leak of a separate and unsubstantiated report that Russia had gathered compromising personal and financial material on Trump. The report also alleged close links between Trump and Kremlin aides during the US presidential race, denied by both sides.