What Will Donald Trump’s Russia Policy Be?

Donald Trump was quite explicit about how he would deal with Russia during the presidential campaign. From the beginning, he praised President Putin as a strong and effective leader and criticized the Obama administration for allowing relations with Moscow to deteriorate to such a low level. He reiterated that the U.S. and Russia had a common enemy in Islamic terrorism and he advocated joining with Russia to fight Islamic State. He gave vague answers to questions about Ukraine and his campaign altered the Republican party platform prior to the convention, removing the commitment to supply Kyiv with lethal defensive weapons. He promised to go to Moscow even before his inauguration in January and reiterated that he would seek a “deal” with President Putin. He has also questioned why the U.S. needs NATO anymore and seems less committed to the transatlantic alliance than any of his predecessors.

Now that he has won his election, what might we expect? President Putin has welcomed his election and said that he will seek to work productively with Mr. Trump. The first thing to look for will be whom Trump appoints to senior cabinet-level positions. For instance, were Senator Bob Corker to become Secretary of State, he has so far taken a tough line toward Moscow and supported more sanctions. Other potential appointees take a different view. So we will all be watching the personnel announcements with great interest

What might the nature of a U.S-Russian “deal” be? One can only speculate, but it is conceivable that the U.S., and Russia might agree to work together on defeating Islamic State in return for the United States reconsidering its stance on the Ukrainian crisis, including the issue of sanctions. Beyond that, it is difficult at this point to envisage the outlines of a deal.

Other Trump pronouncements on foreign policy made during the campaign might be less palatable to the Kremlin. Mr. Trump’s suggestion that South Korea, Japan and even Saudi Arabia should consider acquiring their own nuclear deterrent contradicts Russia’s longstanding commitment to non-proliferation. And it is unclear whether he favors more arms control agreements.

For the time being, there is a sense that U.S-Russian relations will improve under President Trump, provided the Kremlin is willing to respond to his in initial overtures. It is less clear for how long this fifth post-Soviet “reset” will last.

Angela Stent directs the Georgetown Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies and is the author of The Limits of Partnership: US-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, published in Russia as Pochemu Amerika I Rossiia Ne Slyshat Drug Druga

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