By Dan Merica, CNN
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders wouldn’t say Thursday whether Russian President Vladimir Putin was a friend or a foe, telling reporters: “Russia is going to have to make that determination.”
The comment came on the same day the Trump administration announced it is enacting new sanctions on Russian individuals indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller. Though President Donald Trump has recently admitted that Russia meddled in the 2016 US election, his administration has been far more hard and direct with the nation than the commander in chief.
Asked directly if the Russian President was “a friend or a foe,” Sanders dodged.
“I think that’s something that Russia’s going to have to make that determination,” Sanders said. “They’re going to have to decide whether or not they want to be a good actor or a bad actor.”
She added: “I think you can see from the actions that we’ve taken up until this point, we’re going to be tough on Russia until they decide to change their behavior.”
Earlier in the briefing, Sanders disagreed with the suggestion that Putin is playing Trump, saying that the President is open to working with the Russian President when possible.
“The President has said in the past that if we can work together to combat world threats on things like North Korea, then we should,” Sanders said. “But the President has also shown that he’s been extremely tough on Russia throughout his administration.”
The same day the White House declined to say whether Putin is a friend or a foe, the international community was busy condemning Russia for the attempted murder of a former Russian spy and his daughter on British soil. The United Kingdom, with the backing of the United States, has concluded that Russia was behind the attack and has expelled 23 Russian diplomats.
Trump told reporters on Thursday that “it certainly looks like” Russia was behind the attack.
“I spoke with the Prime Minister and we are in deep discussions,” Trump said of British Prime Minister Theresa May. “Something that should never, ever happen, and we are taking it very seriously, as I think are many others.”
Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the ongoing probe by special counsel Robert Mueller loomed over the first year of Trump’s presidency and have long been a needle in the President’s side. He has continued to vent to friends and advisers about the investigation and has privately questioned whether Russia was behind the election meddling.
Trump tried to play coy with Putin during the campaign, hinting that the two could have a good relationship if he won the White House.
“I’m saying that I’d possibly have a good relationship. He’s been very nice to me,” Trump said on Fox News in 2016. “If we can make a great deal for our country and get along with Russia, that would be a tremendous thing. I would love to try it.”