Russia-US ties not so clear-cut under Trump


Donald Trump will take the oath of office on January 20 next year. Since the end of the Cold War, US-Russian relations have ushered in turning points when- ever the leadership of one of the two countries changed, which, it seems, has become a historical cycle.

Whether Moscow-Washington ties will see signs of détente after Trump takes office has become a highlight of public opinion in the international community. On the one hand, relations between the two nations remain a critical variable in international politics, which will impact the progress of significant international affairs and ties among the US, Russia and other countries.

On the other, Trump has expressed his appreciation for Russian President Vladimir Putin and he is also quite popular among the Russian public. Trump’s election was viewed by some as a beginning of improvement in US-Russia ties. But it is not necessarily the case.

Trump and Putin appreciate each other and are willing to deepen cooperation. It appears that the Russian public also prefers him to Hillary Clinton.

But in fact Russians failed to predict Trump’s win; instead they thought Clinton had a bigger chance. In addition, the Russian elite prefers to deal with Clinton, who appeared on the political stage much earlier with familiar views and behavioral patterns, while Trump is completely a strange face to them.

The RBC Daily, one of Russia’s major media outlets, conducted a questionnaire survey among Russian scholars on international issues and America after the US presidential election. The survey demonstrated that most respondents think the US will neither lift sanctions on Russia nor make compromises over the Syrian and Ukrainian crises in the short-term.

It is expected that bilateral ties will see signs of relief at the start of Trump’sterm of office. According to Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin, it is likely that US-Russia ties will mend fences in line with the Kremlin’s will for the first time over the past years by lifting sanctions on the country, resuming diplomatic cooperation on Syria and jointly battling extremist groups. Nevertheless, whether the trend of rapprochement will continue remains to be seen.

From a long-term perspective, factors including the Syrian civil war and the Ukraine crisis, the establishment of Europe’s security order in the post-Cold War era, as well as understanding of the international order, may likely push Washington-Moscow ties into a low ebb.

In the first place, Washington and Moscow may thaw their frosty antagonism over the intractable Syrian issue as both Trump and Putin have the same will to strike against the Islamic State. But they can hardly compromise with each other when it comes to the distribution of power within Syria in the post-war period.

Regarding the Ukrainian crisis, the two nations have seen Crimea’s position in the future as the biggest thorn in the flesh. The White House needs to render an appropriate solution to avoid disappointing its allies. In addition, it is noted that US Vice President-elect Mike Pence once said “Russia invaded Ukraine.” Then NATO’s eastward expansion and anti-missile deployment will also wield influence upon Moscow-Washing- ton relations. The US will not stretch a point in this connection to cater to Russia. Trump claimed after the election that he changed his policy on the US’ Western allies and would continue supporting NATO. Furthermore, Russia has deployed missile systems in Kaliningrad Oblast and the Kuril Islands and will not intentionally sabotage its own interests until NATO makes substantial concessions.

Trump will inevitably give great- er priority to national interests. It is also fair to say that he represents the realism and pragmatism deeply rooted in US political culture, but stays far away from isolationism. During his campaign, he called on the US’allies to assume equitable responsibility, which, however, does not mean Washington is to give up the dominant role on the world stage.

Fundamentally speaking, Trump’s outlook on the international order is no different from that of previous US presidents. Consequently, Moscow’svision to build a multipolar world is unpalatable to this practical business tycoon.

Moreover, not all the Russian elite is in favor of Trump, with many of them contending his foreign policy will boast ultranationalist features.

As Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, US-Russia relations will not take on signs of relief but will probably worsen before President Barack Obama leaves office.

Moscow resumed its military action in Syria and then quit the International Criminal Court. It is playing an increasingly active role in international affairs and its relations with Washington. On the one hand it hopes to test Trump’sbottom line in his Russia policy and on the other it attempts to gain an advantage in handling hotspot issues, which fully demonstrates the maturity of its diplomatic means.

By Cui Heng

Source: The Global Times

(The author is a Ph.D candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University. )


East China Normal University