On Tuesday morning, President Trump went on a tweetstorm. He attacked Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, Hillary Clinton, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Perhaps lost in the slew of tweets was a dangerous message on foreign policy.
That tweet has certainly sparked gleeful laughter in Moscow, and great concern in the State Department, the Pentagon, and the Central and Defense Intelligence agencies.
After all, Putin's grand ambition in Ukraine is getting the United States out of the picture. Yes, the German-led European Union talks a good game in condemning Russian actions in Ukraine. But at the margin, they are too weak on security issues and too subservient to Russian energy exports. Correspondingly, absent U.S. leadership, Ukraine will return to being a Russian puppet.
What's most absurd however, is the information that Trump is referring to.
That's because it is utterly uncontroversial compared to the investigations concerning possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia.
It concerns a Politico report from January that outlines how a U.S. citizen worked with Ukrainian government officials to research Paul Manafort's relationship with Russia. Regardless, in scale, direction, and intent, the Ukrainian effort was nothing compared to the Russian effort.
Of course, that's not coincidental: Ukraine is a U.S. ally, and Russia, put simply, is not.
But the key reason why Trump's tweet is problematic is that it plays into Putin's Ukrainian agenda. As I've detailed, Putin's strategy in Ukraine involves both diplomatic deception and old-school territorial aggression. The former KGB colonel seeks to carve out a significant area of south-eastern Ukraine and consolidate Russian territorial links to the Crimean Peninsula.
But until now, one thing has stood in his way: the United States. No longer, it seems.
Trump's tweet will fuel the Russian fire. In specific terms, I believe it will encourage Putin to escalate his military operations in Ukraine, and double down on the blackmail of Ukrainian and other eastern European politicians.
It will also encourage the Russians to engage in so-called "false flag" intelligence campaigns. False flag operations are those in which "actor A" pretends to be "actor B" and then conducts an operation against "actor C". But knowing how sensitive Trump is to this story, the Russians will likely create new fictions for Trump's consumption. Since the early Soviet era, the Russian intelligence services have been exceptionally talented at such endeavors. They even have a name for them: active measures.
Even better, the Russians know that Trump doesn't trust the U.S. Intelligence Community. Thus knowing Trump won't listen to their warnings about Russian strategy, Putin recognizes he's unlikely to be called out.
Indeed, Trump's tweet suggests he now regards Sean Hannity as his director of intelligence. Unfortunately, Hannity's core collectors are Miss Diamond and Silk, and his analytical products rarely deliver high-confidence assessments of reality.
In this one tweet, Trump has made Ukraine's sovereignty less secure, U.S. leadership less credible, and Putin's ambition more realistic.