US-Russia: When Comes the Time for “Extraordinary Relationship”?

During the summit in Helsinki, Donald Trump said to Vladimir Putin that they would finally have an “extraordinary relationship”. However, The US President, chooses such wording often, so his numerous assistants try to lower it, figuratively speaking, to the ground afterwards. “I suppose no one has any lucid understanding of what this ‘extraordinary relationship’ means”, says Pavel Sharikov, Director of RAS Center for Applied Research of the Institute of USA and Canada in his interview to

The main reason for Washington to contact Moscow was a common sense, and it finally triumphed. The understanding has come that further escalation is dangerous, so it is necessary to set the rules of the game and draw the “red lines” one should not cross. Moreover, we know that Trump sympathizes Putin, but the Congress consistently resisted the initiatives of the US President. Now Trump has played cards in such a way that it is almost impossible to accuse him of having a collusion with the Russians.

Trump was accused that “the Russians helped him in the presidential race”. A few month ago, the House Intelligence Committee, led by the Republicans, issued a report with a trivial conclusion: the Russians evidently interfered, but there was no collusion. Thus, Trump was clear of any charges, but Russia's reputation was contaminated. After that, a a delegation of congressmen visited Moscow, but, most importantly, Trump appointed John Bolton as his security adviser.

Judging by how the events on the summit’s eve developed, the central issues on Russian-American relations were passed through the National Security Adviser instead of the State Department. Bolton's position on Russia was tough even when the relations between the countries were relatively good – in the early 2000s, for example. Therefore, neither a Republican nor Democrat is able to accuse him of any secret links with Russia. Considering that Bolton actively participated in the preparation of the Helsinki summit, no outcome – even the positive one, – could be judged as the result of collusion or another backstage deal.

During the summit, Donald Trump told Vladimir Putin that they will finally have an “extraordinary relationship”. Perhaps he meant that there would be deals concluded on the main “difficult points”: Syria, Russia, Ukraine, nuclear weapons and so on and so forth. Trump's pre-election rhetoric about China comes to mind, too: he said then that he intended to use Russia as a resource for toughening the game against the PRC. He repeated that during almost two years of his presidency, having also mentioned it casually at the very beginning of the meeting with Putin (“...We will be talking about our mutual friend, Mr. Xi”). However, it is hard to say, whether Trump's hopes were justified.

As for the further development of US-Russia relations, there will be a Congress electoral campaign held in the US until November, which plays a huge role in the foreign policy process. So there will be a certain still period, since no one will make harsh maneuvers during the electoral campaign, and it concerns, first of all, the lifting of Russian sanctions.

According to the law adopted a year ago, the President does not have any authority to lift the sanctions. Only the Congress could do it, and it will take such a step only in case if the President brings a convincing evidence that the situation with Russia has changed: it returned back the Crimea, implemented the Minsk agreements, and so on. Let us see how the midterm elections to the Congress will take place. Accordingly, if the balance of forces in the Congress – where the Democrats still have strong positions, - changes, it is possible that the “Russian card” will cease to be used in criticizing Donald Trump. In this case, the dialog will possibly move into a constructive channel. I do not think that the chances are high, but the situation is now somewhat better than one would expect.

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