“The big problem with Trump’s policy is that it doesn’t add up,” said Stephen Sestanovich, who served as ambassador to former Soviet republics in the 1990s. “If you have a policy that doesn’t add up, you won’t win support for it. And if nobody supports it, how tough can it really be?”
When it comes to Ukraine, Mr. Trump’s administration has gone further than Mr. Obama’s in some respects. Most prominently, it provided more than 200 Javelin anti-tank missiles plus three dozen launchers last year.
The Javelins, however, have been stored at a base in western Ukraine far from the front lines. The administration has insisted that they were meant as defensive weapons and could be deployed rapidly in case of a new Russian incursion.
The recent naval confrontation in the Kerch Strait has tested Mr. Trump. Nearly two months later, Russia has refused to release the ships or sailors. Mr. Trump canceled a meeting in Buenos Aires with Mr. Putin, then pulled him aside at a summit leaders’ dinner and told him the standoff needed to be solved, aides said.
Administration officials have developed possible responses, including enacting new sanctions, increasing NATO naval presence in the Black Sea, sending allied ships to make calls at Ukrainian ports, deploying NATO or European Union monitors into uncontested Ukrainian territory to serve as a deterrent, and stationing unarmed observers on Ukrainian ships as they transit the Kerch Strait.
So far, Mr. Trump has approved none of these, stymied in part by the Europeans, who have not agreed to a coordinated response. But administration officials said responses were still under consideration. And the American destroyer Donald Cook entered the Black Sea this weekend to make a point to Moscow.
In the meantime, analysts said, American policy remains bifurcated by the disparity of Mr. Trump’s statements and his administration’s actions. “I just see this dichotomy there,” Mr. Pifer said. “I don’t know how it gets resolved.”