President Trump’s comments on Russia and its President Vladimir Putin during the interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News that raised eyebrows and caused discomfort to his own Vice President and fellow Republicans came on the eve of a meeting of European Foreign Ministers which addressed reports of increased Russian activity around the Ukraine. The timing could not have been worse for the United States.

Sanctions and worries

The European Union was one of the prime movers, together with the Obama administration, to placing sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Eastern Ukraine in support of pro Russian rebels which led to its annexation of Crimea.

This armed conflict has never ceased totally since then and has been a source of constant worry for Russia’s neighbours. One of the tragedies of this conflict was the shooting down of Malaysian flight MH17 on July 17, 2014 which killed all 283 passengers and crew aboard including 80 children and which was blamed on the Pro Russian rebels.

Yesterday the British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson reiterated the European determination that the sanctions will continue until Russia has fully complied with the 2015 Minsk II Agreement. In the United States Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the issue by stating that “We’re watching and very troubled by the increased hostilities”.

These issues will be discussed in a meeting in Washington attended by the senior European diplomatic representatives including Federica Mogherini the EU’s foreign policy chief.

Items on discussion will also include Syria where Russia also played a prominent role.

Foreign policy on the run

Diplomacy is a delicate issue that is as much about perceptions and hidden messages as it is about the declarations made by its protagonists. For this reason any statement or comment made publicly by Heads of Governments are under close scrutiny by diplomatic staff around the world.

As the Leader of the world’s most powerful country this then means that the declarations of the President of the United States are of particular importance and are therefore subject to even closer scrutiny by the international community, beginning with the country’s allies

This makes the President’s comments about Russia on Saturday particularly worrying as it shows that he does not weigh his words before answering.

The reaction of Vice president mike pence in stating his position on Donald Trump’s reply is indicative of the discomfort that these statements caused. While some candour may be appropriate under certain circumstances, it may well be a cause of trouble in major meetings with the other heads of state.

President #Donald Trump had promised to become a force of change in politics and he has shown that in this he is a man of his word, but not all change is good. International politics is not a board game to be played amongst friends on a kitchen table, it is a game that has the potential of creating or destroying commercial markets, just as it can and has caused wars around the world.

The new Administration must understand that foreign policy is not made on the run and is certainly not carried out on television interviews, particularly when the subject has been the country’s most powerful antagonist since then end of the Second World War.

America’s allies have given proof of their loyalty and their willingness to set their own foreign policy agendas according to its directions and guidelines. In fact these Allies are the first to be wrong footed by any careless statement.

It will do no good to anyone, beginning with President Trump, to put at risk these decades old alliances in a period when the world is facing major challenges not only from the new fanatics in the Middle East, but even more so from the activities of the other world’s other superpower and the subject of his comments.