But some experts said that the critics were overreacting and that the Europeans should stop “acting petulant,” as James Jay Carafano, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation, put it. “For all the sturm and drang, nothing has changed in the fundamentals of the trans-Atlantic community,” he said. “NATO is a necessity, not a nice to have. The trading and economic partnership between the U.S., Canada and Europe is reality that doesn’t change with presidents.”
Mr. Trump’s advocacy for Russian membership in the Group of 7 was in keeping with his against-the-grain attitude toward Moscow. He has repeatedly spoken in flattering terms about Mr. Putin and pushed for closer ties.
During a telephone call after Mr. Putin’s re-election, widely deemed a sham by the rest of the world, Mr. Trump congratulated him on his victory even though his staff had written “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” on a briefing document. He also suggested Mr. Putin visit him at the White House, to the chagrin of policymakers who have been trying to isolate Russia.
At the same time, in recent months, Mr. Trump has allowed other members of his administration to voice sharp criticism of Russia. He authorized sanctions in response to cyberattacks and its intervention in the 2016 presidential election, although only after Congress forced his hand by voting nearly unanimously to pass new penalties on Moscow over his objections.
Mr. Trump went along with allies and ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats and the closing of its consulate in Seattle after the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. But he privately complained that he was being pushed to do more than he wanted.
When Nikki R. Haley, his ambassador to the United Nations, announced that new sanctions would be imposed on Russia for supporting Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, Mr. Trump publicly contradicted her and refused to authorize the move.
In speaking with reporters on Friday, Mr. Trump insisted that he has been tough on Moscow, even more than Hillary Clinton would have been had she won the 2016 election. “I have been Russia’s worst nightmare,” he said. “If Hillary got in — I think Putin is probably going, man, I wish Hillary won.”