Back then, Moscow decided not to respond, making a grand public play of its forbearance. After all, Trump was heading for the White House, and there were still hopes in Putin’s team that his fulsome praise of Russia might be translated into some practical gains.
Since then, though, the Russians have learned the painful lesson that Trump promises more than he can deliver and have watched as a suspicious Congress, a hostile media and a rolling judicial investigation increasingly tie his hands when it comes to working with Moscow.
With this new round of sanctions, Putin clearly felt he could not afford not to respond. For a leader who has built so much of his personal legitimacy on his image as the defender of Russian interests, the risk was that he would look weak.
But the fact that the best they could do was, in effect, to pull some old counter-sanctions out of the deep freeze, underlines the sharp disparity between Moscow and Washington’s positions.