Weirdly, the Russian government is doing Tillerson no favors. If Putin and his loyalists want Tillerson at State, the obvious play right now is to lie low and not say anything too encouraging, especially with anti-Trumpers of all stripes aggravated by the CIA news about Russia interfering in the campaign. Instead you’ve got excited quotes from Russian apparatchiks showing up in English-language media today. “The choice of Tillerson is sensational. Trump continues to amaze,” said one Russian senator. “This is a fantastic team. These are people that Russia can do business with,” a consultant to Putin’s staff agreed. Um, okay. John Bolton it is, then.
One interesting question for Trump’s first year, regardless of who ends up at State: What sort of face-saving “victories” will Putin hand to him to encourage entente between the two countries? Trump’s not going to lift sanctions or pull back from eastern Europe for nothing; he’ll be flogged by hawks for “weakness,” which will irritate him to no end and could sway public opinion unless he has concessions from Russia to point at. Putin must be prepared to do something to make America’s strongman look superficially “strong,” but what? He could lend the U.S. some help in reining in China, but he needs to be careful about making too much of an enemy of a much, much more populous nuclear power on his border. The U.S. can pull back internationally; there’s no place Putin can “pull back to” to avoid China. Perhaps Russia will suddenly discover that it’s badly understocked on luxury hotels? The new Trump International in Vladivostok will be the classiest of all Trump properties, that I can tell you.The whole thing may have been worth the silly hoopla if it gets the press back into the habit of evaluating U.S. officials in terms of their loyalty to this country's interests instead of how cool they sound holding forth in the faculty lounge.