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Russian President Vladimir Putin must certainly be relishing his summit Monday with President Donald Trump, because never before has an American president done so much to advance Russia’s global interests the way this one has. Trump truly is Russia’s best friend.

How does Putin love him? Let us count the ways.

Even before his election, Trump was doing Russia’s bidding by openly encouraging Britons to vote in favor of exit from the European Union. Putin’s longtime goal has been to fracture the EU’s unity to make it easier for him to rebound from pariah status and resume his expansionist agenda. European unity is what established the bulwark against communism on the subcontinent’s eastern flank, leading to the Soviet Union’s collapse and the expansion of NATO to include former Soviet satellite states.

Putin has made it his singular goal to restore Russia as a pre-eminent superpower. With Europe in political disarray, Putin is rejoicing. And Trump is egging him on. No wonder Trump views that meeting as the “easiest” part of his current Europe trip.

Trump has blamed Russia’s 2014 seizure and annexation of Crimea not on Putin but on President Barack Obama. “President Obama lost Crimea. … Yeah, it’s his fault,” he told reporters in June. A reporter sought clarification by asking why Trump didn’t blame Putin for the invasion and seizure. “Because Putin didn’t respect President Obama,” Trump said. “President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country and didn’t respect Ukraine.”

Holding Putin accountable for this unacceptable violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty is the basis for ongoing, severe international economic sanctions on Russia. Europe, again, forms the bulwark for the success of those sanctions — exactly the kind of punishment the West must impose on any aggressive foe. Yet Trump refuses even to call Putin a foe. Rather, Russia is a “competitor.” He has spoken in favor of ending sanctions and effectively allowing Russia to get away with its territorial theft.

Trump heavily criticized NATO in public before and during his trip. He minimizes the alliance’s importance, dismissing its role after World War II in checking Soviet expansion and coming to America’s defense after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. When Trump publicly denigrates NATO, he encourages Putin to resume his aggressive, expansionist posture.

Trump, for obvious reasons, has repeatedly dismissed the importance of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential elections — yet another example of Russian disrespect of sovereignty. In the United Kingdom, Russia is suspected of meddling in Britain’s 2016 “Brexit” vote and of deploying a nerve agent that recently killed a British citizen, sickened another, and nearly killed a former Russian spy and his daughter.

Trump seems oblivious to the threat Russia poses to global security. Americans shouldn’t mistake this for smart diplomacy. This is madness.

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— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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