"I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!" the president tweeted Tuesday morning.
But despite Trump's rhetorical embrace of the autocratic leader and his regime, his administration has taken some big steps to push back on Russia, including some steps that Obama avoided.
In December, his administration decided to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons, and his State Department has consistently criticized Russia for leading, arming, and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. While the Obama administration increased aid to Ukraine, and rallied European partners to slap Russia with international sanctions, it never crossed the line into providing lethal support.
In fact, in June, the Trump Treasury Department actually expanded those sanctions to include 38 new individuals and companies, including two Russian officials, for their alleged involvement in the ongoing violence in Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea. The move was largely meant to bring the U.S. up to date with the European partners' sanctions and with the changing figures and aliases of the shadowy pro-Russian actors in Ukraine.
In response, however, Russia retaliated by forcing the U.S. to shrink its diplomatic missions in Russia. Trump responded by "thanking" Putin "because we're trying to cut down on payroll," again stoking outrage.
But his administration took a bold step, expelling a number of Russian diplomats, and more important, shutting down two Russian facilities in New York and Washington and the Russian consulate in San Francisco - reportedly a major spy hub for the country.
Some of Trump's action on the world stage, however, have made him weaker than Obama, according to critics. He has withdrawn the U.S. from international commitments, including the Paris climate accord and the Trans Pacific Partnership, weakening the country's leadership role. His constant criticism of NATO and his initial refusal to commit to Article 5 - the alliance's principle of common defense - shook Europe's faith in the U.S. And despite those early airstrikes on Assad, he has let Russia have free reign in Syria and let Assad come to dominate the majority of the country again, despite his human rights abuses and use of chemical weapons.
But it's the sanctions issue that has critics most riled up - especially because Trump has not sanctioned Russia for its interference in the 2016 election.
The administration dragged its feet initially, missing the first deadline by three weeks - for the defense and intelligence sector list. In January, they released the other two on time, the so-called "oligarchs" list and the sovereign debt report.
But officials announced that they would not yet impose sanctions on anyone doing business with Russia's defense and intelligence sectors. Instead, they said, the threat of sanctions had already deterred "billions" of dollars worth of deals with Russia, although they provided no evidence of that. Administration officials also have not imposed sanctions on Russia for cyber activity, which the law says shall be imposed unless the White House can certify to Congress that Russia "has made significant efforts to reduce the number and intensity of cyber intrusions."
Given that Tillerson, CIA director Mike Pompeo, and other top officials have warned that Russia is taking steps to interfere in the 2018 congressional elections, it does not seem likely any certification is coming.
Although the administration seems to have so far met its commitments under the law, the lack of sanctions has incensed Democrats. Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called it "inexcusable," while Sen. Ben Cardin, the Democrat who authored the law, said Trump had left the U.S. "vulnerable to malign Russian efforts because the president has put himself above the security of our nation."
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, went so far as to call it "a constitutional crisis," in a tweet that garnered tens of thousands of retweets and likes.
Perhaps most of all, it's those divisions of the Trump era -- whether one believes they are of the president's own making or his enemies' -- that have weakened the U.S. -- just as Putin wanted.