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Putin-Trump 'Bromance' broadens

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 30/12/2016
Face masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump hang for sale at a souvenir street shop in St.Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 23, 2016. © Dmitri Lovetsky, AP Face masks depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President-elect Donald Trump hang for sale at a souvenir street shop in St.Petersburg, Russia, on Dec. 23, 2016.

President Vladimir Putin's surprise decision Friday to forego retaliation in response to sanctions imposed by President Obama the day before is the latest sign of his "Bromance" with incoming president Donald Trump.

As U.S.-Russian relations have headed further south under Obama, Putin and Trump are seeing eye to eye on a range of issues that suggest they will be close partners during Trump's presidency, which commences in just three weeks.

The Obama administration said Thursday it was expelling 35 Russians suspected of being spies and shutting two Russian facilities in the United States believed to be used for intelligence gathering as punishment for Russia's election hacking to help elect Trump president.

Trump has disputed U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the U.S. election, saying the hacking may have been done by someone with no connection to the Russian government.

After Putin's foreign minister proposed expelling U.S. diplomats as a tit-for-tat response to Obama's action, Putin said, "We will not expel anybody."

Here are other areas where Putin and Trump are in agreement:

SYRIAN CIVIL WAR

Obama and Putin have clashed over how to bring the bloody conflict to an end. Putin has sent in his military to help the regime of President Bashar Assad turn the tide against rebels. Obama wants Assad to step down because of atrocities committed against his own people. Obama also has condemned the Russian military for bombing civilians and U.S.-backed rebels, and he has refused to let Russian and U.S. military forces coordinate operations in Syria, where the U.S. is targeting Islamic State fighters.

Trump has welcomed Putin's involvement in Syria, said U.S. forces would work with their Russian counterparts and indicated Assad could remain in power. 

On Thursday, Assad's government announced a cease-fire in the nearly six-year-old civil war following negotiations with Russia, Turkey and rebel groups. The U.S. had no role in bringing about the truce.

CRIMEA

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and later annexed the province. It said its action was in response to threats to the majority of ethnic Russians who live in Crimea from the new pro-Western Ukrainian national government, which had ousted a president closely aligned with Moscow. Obama and the European Union imposed economic sanctions on Russia for grabbing Crimea and fomenting a pro-Russian separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Trump said during his campaign that he might recognize Russia's claim to Crimea, which had been part of Russia until 60 years ago, because most Crimeans seem to prefer Russian control of the province. He also downplayed fears in Ukraine that Russia might send troops into its neighbor to grab more territory.

NATO

The North American-European military alliance has been in place since 1949 as a bulwark against Soviet, and later Russian, military expansion. NATO has been a sore point for Putin since the breakup of the Soviet Union 25 years ago because it has expanded its membership to include some former Soviet republics that are now independent nations, as well as Eastern European nations that had been aligned militarily with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

After Putin seized Crimea, the small Baltic nations that had been part of the Soviet Union but now belong to NATO — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have worried that Putin might try to seize them, too.

During the campaign, Trump questioned whether NATO was obsolete and worth the expense to the United States, which he said pays a disproportionate share of the cost. He also said the U.S. might not come to the defense of a member nation if it is attacked — the alliance's core mission — unless that nation had paid all the dues it owes the organization.

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