What Will Trump's Presidency Bring to Russia?

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The debates between Biden and Trump last week showed that Biden has little chance of being re-elected. It seems that Trump will triumphantly enter the White House. But what does this mean for Russia? Will relations between countries improve

Donald Trump’s acquaintance with Russia occurred in 2013 at the «Miss Universe» contest, which the billionaire held in Moscow. He tweeted at the time: «Do you think Putin will come to the Miss Universe pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?»

Back then, he was just one of the eccentric American millionaires, for whom friendship with Putin was highly prestigious. As we now know, he did not become friends with Putin. Nevertheless, his attitude towards the Russian president was notably respectful.

When Trump announced his candidacy for the U.S. presidency in 2015, Vladimir Putin said that Trump was a «talented person» and an «absolute leader of the presidential race». In response, Donald tweeted: «A great honor to receive such compliments from a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond».

In 2016, the year of the presidential election, candidate Trump said: «I’ve heard that the residents of Crimea would rather be with Russia than where they were», and at one of his campaign rallies, he stated: «I will tell you that if we get along with Russia, and if Russia goes along with us and knocks the hell out of ISIS, that’s OK with me».

Such statements certainly gave hope that once he became president, Donald Trump would establish equal partnership relations with Russia.

But I think the key to understanding the U.S. attitude towards Russia lies in the phrase «if we get along with Russia». That is, in his understanding, as with all U.S. presidents, Russia was supposed to «align» with U.S. policy, and then «peace, friendship, and harmony» would ensue.

Now let’s recall how Russian-American relations unfolded when Donald Trump took office on January 20, 2017. As all experts acknowledge, relations were at their lowest point since the collapse of the USSR. President Barack Obama supported the coup in Ukraine and recognized the reunification of Crimea with Russia as «annexation». It was during this period that the marathon of sanctions against Russia began.

Trump’s arrival was seen by many as a hope for better Russian-American relations. During the first phone conversation between President-elect Trump and President Vladimir Putin on November 14, 2016, both described the relations between our countries as «extremely unsatisfactory» and expressed the “need for active joint work to normalize them and bring them into a constructive framework».

But words remained words. Relations continued to deteriorate, not without the help of the previous Obama administration, which accused Russia of interfering in the U.S. elections in favor of Trump. This accusation set a trap for him; he became a hostage to this charge. Whenever Trump wanted (if he truly wanted) to improve relations with Russia, he was immediately accused of being a Kremlin agent or even a «Moscow operative». A high-level investigation was initiated, 35 Russian diplomats were expelled, and in 2018, another 60 Russian diplomats were expelled from the U.S. Russia responded symmetrically.

On August 2, 2017, Trump signed the «Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act».The document codified the restrictive measures against Russia, Iran, and North Korea, previously adopted by separate executive orders of the previous administrations, and introduced additional ones. Moreover, the law stripped the American president of the right to ease them. In response, Vladimir Putin signed the law «On Measures (Countermeasures) to Unfriendly Actions of the USA and (or) Other Foreign States».

Further, in the new U.S. National Security Strategy unveiled on December 18, 2017, Russia and China were characterized as «revisionist powers» that oppose America, challenge its prosperity, and seek to undermine its security. Thus, as we see, relations with Russia under Trump rapidly deteriorated.

The conflict between Russia and the U.S. also revolved around Syria at this time. Some hope for cooperation emerged following the meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump on July 7, 2017, at the G20 summit in Hamburg, where the sides agreed to a ceasefire in southern Syria from July 9. On November 11, 2017, after a brief meeting at the APEC summit, Putin and Trump issued a joint statement calling for a political resolution in Syria. However, after advocating for a political solution, the White House again struck Syria.

Summarizing Trump’s actions during his first term, one can conclude: the president accused of being a Kremlin puppet was remembered for perhaps the harshest anti-Russian policy.

And here we are in 2024. Relations between the U.S. and Russia are worse than during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Analysts are gloomily predicting nuclear exchanges. The recent debates between U.S. presidential candidates from the Republicans and Democrats ended with the failure of the White House incumbent, Joe Biden. Everyone predicts a victory for Trump. But will Russian-American relations improve after that? It seems not.

Unlike Trump’s first term when everyone was sure a reset was possible, now most experts lean towards pessimism.

During the recent debates, Donald Trump stated: «I will have this conflict between Putin and Zelensky resolved before I even take office. People are dying, and it’s happening so stupidly, so senselessly. I will settle this — and I will settle it before I return to the White House».

But the main question is how he envisions resolving the issue. According to Trump’s team, military aid to Kiev will be stopped unless they sit down at the negotiating table. At the same time, the U.S. will warn Moscow that any refusal to negotiate will lead to increased American support for Kiev. In other words, they plan to resolve the problem in cowboy style. A Colt is aimed at opponents: if you don’t comply with my conditions, I’ll shoot. This resembles blackmail, especially since Trump has already warned that he considers Putin’s peace plan unacceptable and stated that he will insist on delimitation along the line of contact at the start of negotiations.

It is clear that initially, Trump, if elected president, will address America’s internal problems, but he won’t forget about Ukraine. He will try to shift the Russian-Ukrainian conflict from an acute phase to a protracted stage of cold war with increasing sanctions against Moscow and proudly report: I stopped the war. A smoldering conflict is primarily beneficial to Washington because it weakens Europe, which has lost cheap Russian gas and other raw materials, and firmly ties it to the U.S. Additionally, by removing the acute phase of the conflict, Trump can fully focus on China, which he considers the main enemy.