For a president who usually tweets first and asks questions later, Donald Trump’s initial reaction to the Salisbury attack has been curiously slow. Eleven days on from the poisoning of a former Russian agent, Trump’s Twitter account remains silent on the subject. But now that Theresa May is ramping up the rhetoric against Russia – ordering 23 Russian spies to leave Britain – the Trump administration is finally riding firmly behind May, and pointing the finger at Putin in a way it never has before.
The White House issued a statement last night saying it ‘stands in solidarity with its closest ally, the United Kingdom’. While the evidence linking the attack to Russia might not be good enough for Jeremy Corbyn, the US government is more willing to trust the Brits: ‘The United States shares the United Kingdom’s assessment that Russia is responsible for the reckless nerve agent attack on a British citizen and his daughter’, the statement says.
The wording of the White House response is also remarkably similar to May’s own speech in parliament yesterday, suggesting this is something of a coordinated take down of Putin. The PM told MPs that the attack was part of a ‘well-established pattern of Russian State aggression across Europe and beyond’. Trump agrees: ‘This latest action by Russia fits into a pattern of behaviour in which Russia disregards the international rules-based order, undermines the sovereignty and security of countries worldwide’. The statement goes on to say Russia has attempted to ‘subvert and discredit Western democratic institutions’. Many of those who suspect collusion between Russia and Trump in the US election have been making this point since Trump was first elected. Now, Trump is showing his willingness to admit for the first time that Russia has tried to meddle in foreign elections. Just days ago, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said the same, going on to conclude there was no evidence of collusion between Trump and the Kremlin in the election. Now that it looks more likely that Trump will be absolved of blame for having a hand in Russian meddling, his administration is finally speaking up on the subject for the first time.
May has had her ups and downs with the president but this is the best support the PM could hope for at a difficult time for the British government. Trump’s backing is the vote of confidence the PM needs in what is likely to be a protracted and messy falling out with Russia, particularly given France’s apparent reluctance to weigh in behind the PM. In another clear show of support from Trump, the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley also voiced her backing for May. She warned that unless Russia was punished, ‘Salisbury will not be the last place we see chemical weapons used’. Haley’s comments seem to be in line with what many Republicans, such as John McCain, are also saying. As chaotic as the Trump administration is, these interventions show that, for now, the Trump administration and the Republican Party are fully behind Britain. The special relationship lives on.