US-Russia relations under President Trump
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US President Donald Trump is willing to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House, but not yet, according to official remarks released on Thursday.

During a conversation aboard Air Force One flying into Paris, Trump said he was willing to engage the Russian leader despite controversy over the country´s involvement in the 2016 US election.

Asked whether he would invite Putin, Trump said he would “at the right time. I don´t think this is the right time, but the answer is yes, I would.”

Trump has been embroiled in a scandal over his campaign’s ties with Russia — which US intelligence agencies say tried to tip the 2016 US election in his favor. Trump denies allegations of collusion.

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Russia-USA relations

Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to try to rebuild U.S. Russia ties and to cooperate in Syria in the recent meeting held on the sidelines of G-20 summit.

U.S.-Russia relations hit a post-Cold War low under the Barack Obama administration and Trump has made clear he wants a rapprochement with Moscow if he can get along with Putin, who says he is also keen to mend ties.

His detractors have also accused him of being too eager to make an ally of Putin. For Putin, who faces possible re-election next year, an easing of U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis would be a major coup.

Trump’s stance on Russia has been under intense scrutiny from critics who say he was elected with help from Russian intelligence agencies, a charge he denies. His detractors have also accused him of being too eager to make an ally of Putin. For Putin, who faces possible re-election next year, an easing of U.S. sanctions imposed on Moscow over its role in the Ukraine crisis would be a major coup.

It seems that the new U.S. leadership identifies terrorism and radical extremism as the main security threats currently facing the United States. As a result, a political compromise of some sorts on Syria paired with a joint U.S.-Russian effort to eradicate the Islamic State can be expected to address this priority.

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These red lines have become increasingly more rigid since 2008 when Russia expressed its disapproval of Georgia’s aspiration for NATO membership and subsequently engaged it in a military conflict.

U.S.-Russia frictions may arise, however, over the situation in Ukraine (and in the post-Soviet space in general). Unlike in Syria, a country outside Russia’s traditional zone of influence, Moscow claims privileged status in Ukraine underlined by red lines that no post-Soviet state should dare to cross. These red lines have become increasingly more rigid since 2008 when Russia expressed its disapproval of Georgia’s aspiration for NATO membership and subsequently engaged it in a military conflict.

In 2014, Russia stepped up its demands on former satellite states. Since then it not only views NATO accession as a firm red line, but it would also not tolerate any cozying up towards the European Union or the West in general. Moscow gives the impression that the declaration of neutrality or non-alignment would not be sufficient reassurance for smaller post-Soviet states any longer. These demands, if not met, would deprive those states of a large portion of their sovereignty.

It will raise the question whether the United States should contribute to the re-division of Europe into two distinct zones of influence: that of an “enlarged” west and a “reduced” east, with some countries still dithering in-between.

President Trump will have a choice to either accept or reject Russia’s zone of influence. If, despite the many shortcomings that Kiev continues to present, Ukraine is “sold out” to Moscow in the spirit of compromise and no readiness to continue to subsidize that state, doubts about the upcoming administration will arise in many European capitals. It will raise the question whether the United States should contribute to the re-division of Europe into two distinct zones of influence: that of an “enlarged” west and a “reduced” east, with some countries still dithering in-between.

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The Trump administration, touting its ostensibly ready disposition to compromise and nativist regard may also feed into populist sentiments in Eastern and Central Europe, where populists such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and Beata Szydlo and Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland try to cling to power and could see Trump’s likely non-interference doctrine in the post-Soviet space as a justification to model their politics on Vladimir Putin’s autocratic style.

The short honeymoon between Trump and Putin may well be followed by a long and difficult marriage. The problem may stem from the fact that some passing pronouncements of Donald Trump during the election campaign will be difficult to harmonize with the incoming Republican administration’s declaratory, value-based policy, and interventionist instincts including in the post-Soviet space. This uncertainty in Washington will only add to the unpredictability and volatility in U.S.-Russian relations over the long-term.

 

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