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Trump's bromance with Putin is history

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 8/04/2017 Jim Michaels

Traditional Russian wooden dolls called matryoshka depicting US President Donald Trump, centre left and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a souvenir street shop in St.Petersburg, Russia on Feb. 20, 2017. © Dmitri Lovetsky/File Traditional Russian wooden dolls called matryoshka depicting US President Donald Trump, centre left and Russian President Vladimir Putin are displayed for sale at a souvenir street shop in St.Petersburg, Russia on Feb. 20, 2017. The bromance between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin may be over before it could really blossom.

Blame Syrian President Bashar Assad for coming between them.

The Kremlin, a close ally of the Syrian strongman, condemned the U.S. cruise missile attack on a Syrian airfield early Friday morning as an “act of aggression in violation of international law.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it suspended an agreement with the Pentagon to share communication about U.S. and Russian aircraft conducting separate missions over Syria to avoid mishaps.

Russian aircraft support Assad in his fight against rebels, which include the Islamic State, while a U.S.-led coalition is focused exclusively on defeating Islamic State militants.

Russia's decision in 2015  to enter Syria's civil war with airstrikes against Assad's opponents strengthened the dictator's grip on the country when it looked perilous.

Trump ordered the strike in retaliation for Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons in a rebel-held town Tuesday, but Russia defended Assad, saying the chemicals were released when Syrian planes struck a terrorist lab.

The U.S. strike widens the gulf between Trump and Putin over Assad's future months after the Russian and American presidents seemed to be coming closer to an agreement to join forces to bring an end to Syria's six-year-long civil war, defeat the Islamic State in Syria and let Assad stay in power.

After the chemical attack — which killed 86 people, including 27 children — Trump abruptly reversed course, calling for Assad's ouster, as President Barack Obama had done. That is something Putin has been loath to do since the Syrian leader is one of his few allies in the Middle East.

Even before this week, cutting a deal with Putin may have been wishful thinking for Trump because of the investigations into possible collusion between Russia and Trump campaign aides to disrupt the U.S. presidential election last fall.

Trump said that allegation is bogus but acknowledged that it probably dashes prospects for working more closely with Putin on shared objectives. Now, a partnership seems even more remote.

Dmitry Gorenburg, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, said any hopes of a close relationship between Trump and Putin were dashed amid the domestic political turmoil generated by allegations of close links between Trump and Putin.

"That chance was gone," Gorenburg said.

On the campaign trail, Trump raised the prospect that Russia, and possibly even Assad, could be partners in the war against the Islamic State, also called ISIS, despite Assad's record of brutality against his own people. As president, Trump and Putin discussed that idea in a phone call in January.

As a candidate, Trump had made admiring comments about Putin’s strong leadership, and the feelings appeared mutual: In 2015, Putin called Trump “talented” and an “outstanding man.” The positive exchanges raised the chances of re-establishing a relationship between Moscow and Washington that had deteriorated after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In December, Trump called Putin "smart" for not retaliating after Obama expelled 35 diplomats from the USA in response to alleged Russian cyberattacks designed to intervene in the U.S. election.

During his short time in office, Trump has had to defend himself against allegations that top aides have had contacts with Russian officials. His first national security adviser, Mike Flynn, a retired three-star general, resigned after acknowledging he was not forthright about a meeting he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Russia's alleged attempts to influence U.S. elections and potential contacts within the Trump administration are the subject of multiple investigations.

The overnight U.S. missile strike was careful to avoid Russian personnel or equipment in Syria. “Our target in this attack was not Russia,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said. The United States gave Russia advance notice to be safe.

That did not prevent Putin from rebuking a fellow leader who no longer seems to be a pal.

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