Yes, you read that right – the Reading on Russia Roundup has been momentarily resurrected and roams the earth again, seeking fresh scraps of the news. But before we can delve into the issue at hand, I need to make something clear:
While occasionally expressing disapproval of U.S. Russia policy, Russia Reviewed has always tried to remain nonpartisan [in regard to U.S. domestic politics]. As such, I am not here to express my personal opinion on the outcome of this recent controversial election. I’m here to examine several expert takes on what the Trump presidency may mean for the future of U.S.-Russian relations, and I direct my critique solely at the analysts’ pronouncements. I’m aware I might be opening a can of worms here, but I bank on my readers’ maturity and respect for one another. Heated, inflammatory arguments, as always, are unwelcome here.
Chris Weafer lays out the difficulties facing any attempt to improve U.S.-Russian relations (hint: there are many. And many are deeply entrenched.)
Rather predictably, the Mendeleyev Journal plays up TrumPutin and the ways in which Russia hopes to use a President Trump. Mildly interesting collection of social media responses and images, with a few inexcusable inaccuracies [emhasis is my own]:
Following the lead of Vladimir Putin who intensely dislikes, perhaps despises would be a better description, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, most Russians seemed to hope that anyone except Hillary be selected.
The image above was accompanied by a heavy dose of sarcasm with the headline that Trump was “gaining 146% of the votes” an obvious dig at the Crimean referendum in which the Russian Federal Election Commission first published that the annexation succeeded with 146% of the votes. Embarrassed, the Kremlin later revised the totals to under 100%.
Donald Trump’s victory has the potential to fundamentally reshape U.S.-Russian relations, but whether such a realignment will actually take place will depend on how Trump chooses to learn and appreciate the past failures of several U.S. attempts to engage Russia. It remains to be seen whether he will be willing to follow the advice of professionals, or if he will strike off on his own. U.S.-Russian relations are founded on a complex history, with structural differences among national elites that will prove difficult to bridge through personal rapport among the national leaders. Trump’s first problem will be that other than a small number of close advisers who share his instincts to engage Putin, most of the policy establishment is likely to hold hardened views of Putin’s Russia, ranging from distrustful to confrontational. Rapid change is unlikely to come quickly, despite the personal attention of the president-elect, because the bureaucracy will initially take an obstructionist position.
However, Kofman and Gorenburg go on to predict that Trump will restore the full range of government contacts, including between the two countries’ military establishments; pursue more extensive cooperation with Russia in Syria; and halt the active sanctions policy against Russia (though not necessarily lifting existing sanctions).
tl;dr, basically, most of the Russian politics experts interviewed say that Trump will allow Putin to do whatever he wants – trample international law, bully the Baltic states, claim a sphere of influence, crack down on domestic opposition – without objection. Now that’s some quality academic research.
Hahn predicts Trump might put an end to NATO expansion (at least until Russia becomes “sufficiently democratic to become the next new member”), and drastically cut USAID’s democracy-promotion budget and put constraints on the kind of democracy-promotion activity it undertakes, thus reducing Russian suspicion. He also sees greater cooperation between the U.S. and Russia in the Middle East on the horizon:
Trump is likely to be inclined to step-up cooperation with Russia in the war against global jihadism, where the U.S. have strong common interests. Removing the demand for the removal of Bashir Assad from power in Syria and coordinating directly with Russia is now almost impossible given how far the West has gone out a limb to claim Russian and Syrian forces have been committing war crimes in Syria. However, indirect coordination between the two sides, for example, in clamping down on IS so its forces cannot cross the border into Syria from Iraq with impunity is possible.
According to Hahn, Trump will also likely be willing to sharply reduce or end sanctions against Russia and seek a modus vivendi with Moscow in Ukraine. In return, Putin might be asked to end cyber attacks on US and other Western institutions, resume nuclear non-proliferation negotiations, and limit Russian support for China’s moves in the South China Sea. However, Hahn is keen to point out that powerful forces in Washington, Moscow and Brussels seek to exacerbate differences in the national interests between Russia and the West, and the gross exaggerations of the “Russian imperial dream” that have tainted the political and media landscape aren’t going to magically disappear. Given the bad blood that has developed between the establishments in DC and Moscow, if established any new reset may not survive for long.
And that whole lack of foreign policy experience thing is really going to make an improvement in relations difficult:
He is a not very familiar with foreign policy issues, is not particularly intellectually curious about them, and has no fixed ideological-philosophical prism through which he views them that might drive any commitment he might have to the goal of gaining Russia’s integration into the West. Noecons and neolibs will be trying over the next two months to insinuate advisors into Trump’s administration. If there is any truth to the rumor, for example, that former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton will become Trump’s Secretary of State, then U.S.-Russian relations could just as well see a continuation of the downward trend with all the risks that is fraught.
But if “all works out in the end”, we might get this…
Putin in turn might be able to relax, no longer in fear of a color revolution. This might incline him towards a limited domestic liberalization in line with the historical Russian pattern of thaws coming in times of good relations with the West. We shall see…..
Indeed, in a few years (or perhaps even less time), we’ll see if Hahn – or any of these other “Russia experts” – is worth listening to. You never can tell with Russia, you know?* As the Reading on Russia Roundup crawls back into its shallow earthy grave, I cross my fingers and hope for the best…but prepare for the worst.