"If you want to have an arms race we can do that, but I'm going to win." -- Trump's people later described the call as "cordial"
The mainstream media is convinced that all of the measures President Trump has taken to sanction Russia and push back on its expanding influence - in the Middle East and in its own back yard - have been mostly for show.
But once again, an NBC News report shows that there's more to one-sided stories like a report in the Washington Post claiming that Trump congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his recent electoral victory against the explicit advice of Trump's foreign policy advisors.
As it turns out, during the same conversation, President Trump didn't hesitate to challenge Putin to an arms race, and boasted that the US would almost inevitably win.
Two officials said Trump told Putin during a phone call last week: "If you want to have an arms race we can do that, but I'll win."
Afterward the president gave no hint of tensions when he told reporters the two leaders had "a very good call" and that he plans to meet with Putin soon to discuss curtailing an arms race.
Within days the split between Trump's Russia policy and public rhetoric was again on display.
Of course, as anybody with even the most glancing familiarity with global nuclear weapons stockpiles would tell you, Trump isn't wrong.
Still, NBC News tries to play down the significance of Trump's defiance of Putin - which included a clash between Russian fighters and US-backed coalition forces in Syria that left hundreds of Russians dead.
On at least one punitive policy - the authorization of an arms shipment to Ukraine to combat separatists in the country's restive east - NBC said Tillerson "wore him down" - referring to Trump.
Rex Tillerson, Trump's outgoing secretary of state, led the effort to convince Trump to approve the new arms for Ukraine, officials said. The plan, which Russia opposed, included the sale of U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Kiev has for years requested from Washington. President Barack Obama had repeatedly refused to approve Ukraine's request out of concern it would escalate U.S. tensions with Russia.
Tillerson scheduled a meeting with the president to discuss the plan shortly after the national security team approved it last summer, and he raised the issue with Trump in their regular meetings over the next few months, officials said.
As the policy sat on his desk awaiting his signature, the president expressed concern that it would escalate tensions with Russia and lead to a broader conflict, officials said. They said he also saw Ukraine as a problem for Europe and questioned why he should have to do something about it. And he insisted Ukraine purchase the arms from the U.S., not receive them for free, officials said, before signing off on the policy in December.
"Tillerson just wore him down," a White House official said.
It also reported that Trump encouraged the administration not to tout any actions that might offend Putin - but the US still went ahead with sanctions and the expulsion of diplomats in solidarity with the UK. Trump has also upped the US's support for the embattled government of Ukraine - doing more than the Obama administration ever did.
In reality, Trump is taking a much harder line against Russia since Putin unveiled a new nuclear weapon that he claims can surpass NATO missile defenses.
President Donald Trump's national security advisers spent months trying to convince him to sign off on a plan to supply new U.S. weapons to Ukraine to aid in the country's fight against Russian-backed separatists, according to multiple senior administration officials.
Yet when the president finally authorized the major policy shift, he told his aides not to publicly tout his decision, officials said. Doing so, Trump argued, might agitate Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the officials.
"He doesn't want us to bring it up," one White House official said. "It is not something he wants to talk about."
Officials said the increasingly puzzling divide between Trump's policy decisions and public posture on Russia stems from his continued hope for warmer relations with Putin and stubborn refusal to be seen as appeasing the media or critics who question his silence or kind words for the Russian leader. Critics have suggested Trump's soft approach to Putin has nefarious roots that are somehow entwined with Russia's interference in the 2016 election and the federal investigation into whether the president's campaign colluded in that effort, something the president has repeatedly denied.
Behind the scenes, Trump has only recently taken a sharper tone on Putin, administration officials said, but even then the shift seems more a reaction to the Russian leader challenging the president's strength than a new belief that he's an adversary. Putin's claim earlier this month that Russia has new nuclear-capable weapons that could hit the U.S., a threat he underscored with video simulating an attack, "really got under the president's skin," one official said.
Trump isn't the only one to warn about an arms race. Several Russian diplomats have warned that the West's response to the Skripal poisoning has been too heavy handed.
So, is NBC correct to doubt President Trump's commitment to containing and countering Russia as it asserts its geopolitical might? Or is there another explanation for why Trump is doing what he's doing?
What do you think?
Source: Zero Hedge