Why Trump’s Victory Won’t Drastically Change the U.S.-Russia Relationship

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Proponents of improved U.S.-Russian relations might take heart in Donald Trumps surprise victory in the U.S. general elections. After all, the Republican candidate has repeatedly called for Washington to get along with Moscow. Tangible positive changes are certainly possible, but fundamental changes over issues such as U.S. missile defense, NATO expansion and Russias willingness to use force against its neighbors, as well as the absence of robust economic ties, make a qualitative breakthrough in the bilateral ties unlikely.

There are many reasons set out above news of Trumps victory may have sent champagne corks popping behind the Kremlin walls and inside the Russian parliament. Throughout his campaign, Trump made pronouncements that must have pleased leaders in Russia, one of the few countries where he has been more popular than Hillary Clinton: He has promised to consider lifting U.S. sanctions against Moscow and even floated the idea of recognizing Crimea as part of Russia. Trump has also blamed NATO as obsolete and assaulted some of Americas European friends as free riders, saying the U.S. would defend them against aggression as required by Article 5 of the Washington Treaty only if they fulfill their obligations and spend enough on defense.

Trump has broken with virtually every unfavorable position of Russia in Washington. He snubbed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko when he requested a meeting in September. And “hes having” called for U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria against the so-called Islamic State, describing Syrian dictator Bashar Assad as possibly a lesser evil than the alternatives. He has also refused to endorse the finding of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security that the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails at U.S. political organizations, including the Democratic National Committee. Trump has repeatedly attacked the Trans-Pacific Partnership pushed for by President obama, much to Moscows dismay.

Dont expect a lasting altered in the relationship between Russia and the U.S.

Finally, on a personal note, Trump has described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a strong leader with whom he would be prepared to meet even before inauguration. Putin has returned some of Trumps compliments, describing him as a colorful nominee during the campaign and congratulating him within hours of his victory. In his message to the president-elect, Putin said Russia is ready and wants to restore full-scale the relationship with the U.S. We understand it will be a difficult track, but we are ready to play our part.

These overtures and exchanges of niceties are likely to lead to some genuine improvements in the bilateral relationship, which has hit rock bottom in the words of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. For starters, some substantive coordination between the U.S. and Russian militaries in Syria can be expected beyond the present tenuous level of deconfliction, which has not been robust enough to prevent close calls in the sky. Devoted his statements on Syria, Trump might also be more amenable to accepting Russias view that Assad should stay at least until ISIS and al Qaeda are defeated in Syria.( Of course, that would represent a deviation from the current administrations posture, which is that the civil war in Syria cannot aim as long as Assad remains in power .)

Also, Trumps criticism of NATO and unfriendly posture toward Ukraine indicate he may be unenthusiastic about expansion of the alliance, which Russia views as a tomb menace to its security. Trump would also be less likely than his Democratic rival to commit to any further reinforcement of the U.S. military presence in Europe beyond Obamas existing commitments, and may push NATOs European members to expend more on defense.( Some view Trumps criticism of NATO as an attempt to gain leverage in such talks .)

Mindaugas Kulbis/ AP
A child walkings past graffiti depicting Putin and Trump in Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 14.

Given his business background and 30 years of links with Russia, Trump might try not only to lift some sanctions, but also to expand bilateral trade, though hes unlikely to achieve lasting results, given Russias business climate. State-controlled entities account for 70 percent of the countrys GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. And Russia is currently not even among Americas top 15 trading partners, while the U.S. ranks sixth in Russias list( for January-August 2016 ), trailing behind not only China and Germany, but even Belarus.

Trump might also engage Moscow in areas of mutual interest where Russias behavior can have a significant impact on U.S. national security, such as preventing accidental war and terrorist attacks and countering proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Such engagement would be popular at home. According to a recent poll by the University of Maryland, 67 percent of Republican and 53 percentage of Democrats want the United States to cooperate with Russia to fight ISIS in Syria. Fifty-six percent of Americans believe the U.S. should seek a general policy of cooperation with Russia, while 39 percentage believe Washington should try to limit Moscows power, according to recent polls conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affair and the Moscow-based Levada Center .

Trump wont be able to grant Moscows wishings even if he wanted to.

And, yet, we dont expect a lasting qualitative altered in the bilateral ties. This would require overcoming several fundamental obstacles. One is the U.S. desire to prevent Russia from expanding its footprint in the Countries of the middle east. Another includes Russias demands for binding guarantees on the non-expansion of NATO and for constraints on U.S. ballistic missile defense systems two of the conditions that Moscow recently put forth for reviving bilateral cooperation on nuclear security, both of which run counter to U.S. interests. Russia also wants a 21 st century version of the Concert of Europe, but on a world scale, in which Russia plays an equal role with the U.S ., China and the European Union; Washington has no intention to concede to such an arrangement.

While limited cooperation on non-proliferation will continue, we also expect no breakthrough in arms control. Russia will not were in favour of deeper cuts in strategic nuclear arsenals without limitations on U.S. missile defense, and it outright refuses to discuss nonstrategic nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the compliance issues looming over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty would need to be resolved before any further arms control agreements could be concluded.

In short, Trump wont be able to grant Moscows wishes even if he wanted to. He will be constrained on the above-mentioned issues and others, including a wholesale lifting of sanctions, by Congress, where many view missile defence as a fundamental U.S. strategic interest. Likewise, many in Washington want to continue holding Russia accountable for what they view as the forcible annexation of Crimea, repudiating Moscows position that it was an exercise in self-determination. Equally contradictory asserts persist over the insurgency in eastern Ukraine, which Americans believe sets a dangerous precedent that Moscow are striving to replicate in Eastern European countries that are Americas NATO friends. Ultimately, Trump, who bills himself as something of an isolationist, is likely to defer to Western Europe in the negotiations on resolving the Ukraine conflict, and has even called on Germany to take the lead on the issue.

As George W. Bushs experience with Putin demonstrated, personal ties are not enough to create a sturdy partnership, even if both countries share some vital national interests, such as preventing the proliferation of weapons of weapons of mass destruction and reining in international terrorism. A genuinely strong, fruitful relationship simply cannot be sustained in the presence of fundamental differences and the absence of a solid economic foundation. It was these factors that effectively derailed the 2009 reset and they will go on making any long-term qualitative improvements in the bilateral ties unlikely.

Read more: www.huffingtonpost.com

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