Naser Koshan

U.S. Russia Relations under President Trump

19.02.2017

Though president Trump and president Putin have not met officially, but the bromance between the two is already the talk of the town as much as it is a myth considering the bitter history between the two cold war arch nemeses. The U.S. media is already skeptical of the ongoing fondness to bolster an amicable rapport between the two leaders, and they constantly taunt white house officials over the prospects of such relationship.

President Trump is already walking a thin line confronting major Republican heavyweights both in senate and congress. A great number of core Republicans as John McCain and speaker Powel Ryan, are not in the same page when it comes to U.S. Russia relations and any thought of lifting the Obama imposed sanctions on Kremlin at this time. They have publically expressed their concern and discontent in giving president Putin and Russia any further opportunity to challenge American interests in the region.

No shocker, the majority of Democrats are also apprehensive about the increasing Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and above all, its recent cyber attacks on DNC (Democratic National Convention) computers prior to elections. They believe that the Russian’s intelligence with a green signal from president Putin himself, orchestrated the whole cyber hack which benefited president Trump getting elected. President Trump while acknowledging the Russian cyber hacking of the DNC computers after he was presented with evidence by the FBI and U.S. cyber command officials, nevertheless, he has repeatedly stated that the hacking had no impact on the elections outcome and he won the elections fair and square. The allegations have also been dismissed by president Putin and Russia.

President Trump and his inner circle, notably Steve Bannon and other top advisors are hoping for a reset in the U.S. Russia relations. A goodwill gesture has already been extended from Kremlin to amend relations with the new president in the White House; as well as open a new chapter of cooperation in regards to global security and lifting sanctions. No doubt there are hurdles considering the notion of skepticism and array of outstanding issues between the two global powers, which requires both time and changes to the prevailing political status quo in the region.

In spite of all these indications, the outstanding international disagreements over the Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and annexation of Crimea by Kremlin will determine the longevity and rationality of such relationship. In contrast to the official stance of the preceding president on Crimea, president Trump has occasionally expressed his indifference in regards to Crimea annexation, citing it not a priority for his administration’s foreign policy. Instead, he has shown his willingness to talk sanctions and reduction of nuke stockpiles between the two countries. He certainly faces strong opposition from veteran senator John McCain and Bernie Sanders along with other heavyweights in congress and senate who has called president Putin a thug and a gangster many times; believing the only way to stop Russia threatening its neighboring countries is through increased U.S. sanctions on Kremlin and isolating Moscow on the international front.

Post swearing in as the President, Mr. Trump received the first blow when the story began surfacing about the leaked discrete conversations of the ousted National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. in the public eye. He was apparently discussing the prospects of U.S. levied sanctions on Kremlin during the campaign trail with the ambassador. He has been since criticized and scrutinized by the media and house Democrats that immediately followed his early resignation since U.S. constitution does not allow U.S. citizens to initiate talks with foreign dignitaries prior to holding any official position.

In an unusual 80 minute press conference, a furious President Trump weighed on the issue and criticized senate Democrats and “dishonest media” for overstretching the news and politicizing the issue, while accepting his resignation, he praised him as a capable and outstanding man who was simply doing his job. He angrily accused low level leakers in the CIA and other intelligence agencies for leaking strictly confidential and classified information to the media. He pointed out that the very same individuals are also responsible for leaking the details of his phone calls and rough talks with the Australian prime minister and Mexican president, which were supposed to be strictly confidential. He then promised that as soon as his appointees take charge in these institutions, these low level leakers will be identified and dealt with accordingly.

President Trump went one step further, blasting the media for spreading fake news about Russia and demonizing his administration’s achievements and accomplishments. He continued reiterating how wonderful it will be if he and president Putin actually get along and resolve international issues with consultation and mutual understanding. Both Russia and the U.S. hold the world’s largest nuclear stockpile, any mishaps in dealing with each other potentially alarms catastrophic consequences for the rest of the world. On the other hand, president Putin is all praises for Mr. Trump, openly applauding the American people for their choice to choose Mr. Trump. President Trump also recently thanked president Putin for calling him up to congratulate him on the elections win and once again prior to his inauguration as the 45th president of the U.S.

President Trump is certainly at no talking terms with the mainstream media that is constantly questioning his inner circle’s dealings with Moscow. During the campaign trail the then candidate Mr. Trump had to ask for his campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s resignation over his lobbying history, particularly in Ukraine, presenting pro-Russian interests. But president Trump voiced very clearly that he does not have any business interests in Russia, no loans in Russia, and reiterated that he has not even met president Putin personally. He added that he certainly hopes to get along with the guy, like many other leaders of states, but could possibly go the other way round too.

President Trump did also brush-off the scandalous confessions of the former British spy citing Russian authorities having a dossier on Mr. Trump showing him in compromising situations. Prior to running for President, Mr. Trump had visited Russia several times as the owner of Miss Universe Pigeon. Apparently, the secret dossier is orchestrated by the FSB formerly known as KGB with the commonly practiced Russian technique of setting up honey traps to blackmail politicians and businessmen. But the whole chapter of allegations faded away when both leaders labeled it fake and untrue.

No doubt, both Kremlin and Washington have to look for common grounds when it comes to easing international tensions bilaterally. The U.S. having national security concerns in the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe is fully aware of the Russian counter measures in these regions to safeguard their own. As former ambassador Khalilzad puts in his recent book (The Envoy), “despite the collapse of the then Soviet Union and the U.S. emerging as the triumphant superpower, the old adversary has always been a prominent national security concern and a strategic threat for policy makers in the U.S. who had prudently predicted a likely Russian aggression towards its eastern neighbors particularly Ukraine long time ago”.

The Russians on the other hand, are very sensitive to the increased NATO presence along their respective borders; they have taken counter measures by deploying tens of thousands of extra troops and heavy weaponry. Last year, when the U.S. installed the previously halted missile defense shield in Romania, Moscow reacted and subsequently took proactive measures alongside its borders. In response NATO’s secretary general stated its defense essence, and subsequently rejected any claims of provocation by Moscow.

In the Middle East, Iran and Russia joined hands in Syria to save the falling Assad regime. From the very beginning they had sensed a western deception to shift the balance in the Middle East, and based on their assessment, the Syrian Assad would have been the last nail in the coffin. They acted quickly to prevent a regime collapse in Syria and materialized the Syrian government with both mercenaries and weapons to eventually weaken the very strongholds of IS and Syrian free army closing on Damascus.

Prior to the start of the Russian air campaign against the IS militants in Syria, the U.S. along with its regional and European allies were already targeting IS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, paving the way for the moderate rebels to gain grounds and acquire political recognition. Temporary and short-lived but the world certainly witnessed a semi cooperative front between the U.S. and Russia pouring bombs on IS to preclude their advancement.

In Asia, the Russians have strongly expressed their deepest concerns with the IS, gaining footholds in northern Afghanistan. Russian special envoy to Af-Pak Mr. Zamir Kabulov has acknowledged the fact that Moscow is indeed in talks with the Taliban to prevent any possible IS infiltration to its former Soviet Union republics, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, both bordering Afghanistan. As a precaution Kremlin has indeed deployed its soldiers along the Afghan border to ensure the same. President Putin considers IS militants as a direct threat to Russia’s national security and global interests, simultaneously; Moscow has initiated multilateral talks with regional powers to create a buffer zone against these militants outside its respective borders.  The U.S. on the other hand, under Trump administration is keen to extend a helping hand in this matter and open a unified front with Russia to wipe out IS and its royal affiliates in the region.

Last but not least, President Trump’s foreign policy and national security team led by defense secretary Gen. Mattis, director Pompeo, and secretary Tillerson will hold the key for any drastic change in the U.S. Russia relations; it is likely to change to a lesser confrontational and more cooperation mode, in contrast to the previously cold personal relations between former president Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

 

Author: Naser Koshan

Freelancer Washington, U.S.

February 2017






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