How Trump’s Presidency Can Become a Game Changer for EU-Russia Relations

The election of Donald Trump as US president is likely to usher in a new stage in EU-Russian relations, according to Carmen Claudín, senior policy fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB). In particular, it will be harder for the European Union to pursue an assertive policy toward Russia, while the prospect of removal of sanctions against Moscow, in place since 2014, may become more realistic.

There is a lot of uncertainty in Europe after the election of Donald Trump, while Russia feels more secure, Claudín told Valdai Club Programme Director Dmitry Suslov on the sidelines of the business breakfast held in Berlin on Friday by the Valdai Discussion Club and the German-Russian Forum.

“For the time being, Russia is in a more secure position and the prospect of Trump’s presidency is not seen per se as danger for Russia,” she said. “Whereas for the EU and the European project, the campaign of Donald Trump is very worrying. Yes, there can be differences and changes in relations between the US and the EU. What these differences will be is difficult to say. But one difference will be that it will be more difficult for the EU to have a more assertive attitude towards Russia.”

During his campaign, Trump said he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and lifting the sanctions against Moscow if elected president. Claudín is cautious about this prospect, but believes that Spain would welcome lifting of the sanctions, although the country will follow the official position of the European Union.

“The Spanish position, although there is nothing officially said about it, will be dependent on the EU member states’ majority position. In this sense, we will stick to it. Although I think that somehow for Spain it would be welcome if there is a lifting of the sanctions. But I don’t believe we’ll make of that point of divergence with the EU position,” she said. “It is something which will be discussed, if not already discussed in the EU institutions. There is some prospect for that. We cannot deny it.”

President Trump could also move toward a more restrained policy on Ukraine, which will require the European Union to work out a new course, Claudín added. “There are real prospects that the US under Donald Trump could be more restrained toward Ukraine. If such a policy is confirmed, the EU will find itself alone in front of Russia or together with Russia dealing with the Ukraine conflict. What position the EU will occupy in the future will depend on the developments inside the EU. Many things are connected with the election results next year.”

The new situation arising after the US elections could also mean more cooperation in Syria between the United States and Russia. Spain will share the EU approach on this, Claudín stressed, but it is important that the country’s vision of the war in Syria is largely shaped by the issue of refugees.

“The Spanish public opinion is very much in favour of a very active pro-refugee policy,” she said. “But this problem is linked to the war. The public opinion would like to stop the war in Syria and put an end to further migration waves.”

An important trend in Spain, according to Claudín, is an enormous sympathy for the so-called Arab Spring. “This has included Syria, because it started as a rebellion asking for more democratic changes”.

“Spain is traditionally very careful not to take any different position than the EU itself, except the questions like Kosovo. The general trend is to stick with the EU, even when there are some reservations about that,” she concluded.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.