An Angry Kremlin Faces New Rounds of U.S. Sanctions

Much to the Kremlin’s dismay, however, the Trump administration has developed into a kind of Pushmi-Pullyu of the diplomatic world, acting toward Russia something like the two-headed llama of Dr. Doolittle fame. One head, in the form of Mr. Trump, repeatedly promises improved ties with Moscow, while the other, representing senior officials in his own administration and bipartisan sentiment in Congress, growls about new sanctions and other chastisements.

In Moscow, the policy zigzags prompted both confusion and anger as the Kremlin floundered to respond.

“People are bewildered because they keep getting very mixed signals about the state of relations,” said Andrei V. Kortunov, the director general of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research group that advises the Kremlin.

The Kremlin’s standard response since the Crimea annexation has been to rally Russians around the flag, depicting the country as a besieged fortress. After four years, however, ordinary Russians find that formula tiresome, analysts said, and Mr. Putin’s declining popularity can be attributed partly to his inability to mend fences with the West.

“People are saying, ‘Please maintain Russia as a great power, but not at the expense of our income,’ ” said Lev D. Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, an independent polling organization. “When they started to sense that Putin’s foreign policy became too expensive, the attitude began to change and the sense of irritation is growing.”

After the Helsinki summit meeting, 42 percent of Russians in one poll said they held a favorable view of both the United States and Europe. That is the highest level since Moscow reclaimed Crimea.

At the same time, Mr. Putin’s approval rating, still elevated by Western standards, has been sinking. In July it dropped 15 percentage points, to 64 percent from 79 percent, according to a Levada poll. The survey of 1,600 people had a margin of error of around three percentage points.

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