Putin’s Perspectives on Working with the Next Administration


2016-11-06 Based on his recent travels to the former Soviet Union, Richard Weitz provides his second piece looking at the potential evolution of the Russian-American relationship and rivalry under the next Administration.

According to Weitz: “I spent the last few weeks in Russia giving presentations and holding meetings at various Russian institutions in Moscow, including The Gorbachev Foundation, the Moscow State University, the Financial University, the American Centre, the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Russian International Affairs Council.

“I then spent four days at the annual Valdai Conference in Sochi, attended by President Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian officials as well as more than one hundred foreign experts, many of whom were former high-level government officials or long-time Russian experts.”

According to Weitz, given the choices, Vladimir Putin indicated at the conference that he felt that Trump would be a more realistic politician to work with rather than Clinton.

In part, this is no doubt his experience of Clinton announcing a reset of relations with Russia and that reset boomeranging and then not really having a clear way ahead to deal with Russia and the competition.

And certainly Syria poses significant challenges to liberal interventionists.

Putin Considers the Possibility of a Trump Administration

By Richard Weitz

Russians offer diverse reasons for respecting Trump—he is seen as a strong leader, successful businessperson, and firm against terrorism—but the most important reason, unsurprisingly, is that Trump advocates cooperating with Russia to address mutual threats.

Compared with Clinton, Trump more readily personifies the U.S. relationship with Russia in terms of whether President Vladimir Putin respects the U.S. president and how skilled the U.S. leader is at resolving differences with Moscow through pragmatic deals. Trump expresses considerably more optimism than Clinton about resolving U.S. differences with Russia.

The Kremlin welcomes Trump’s stance. At Valdai, Putin formally pledged to work with whomever the Americans elected president, but made clear his preferences for Trump as is future American interlocutor:

“We don’t care much about this [who wins the election], but we cannot but welcome words, thoughts and intentions about the normalization of relations between the United States and Russia.”

Putin praised Trump for being a man of the people and for seeking good relations with Russia. Trump “behaves extravagantly,” Putin told us, but he represents the interests of ordinary people, he presents himself as an ordinary person criticizing those who have held power for decades.”

Putin gave one of is more interesting sociological digressions at Valdai.

In his view, people vote for unorthodox candidates like Trump because they have no confidence in the political establishment or that they can influence this elite: “even in the most advanced democracies the majority of citizens have no real influence on the political process and no direct and real influence on power. People sense an ever-growing gap between their interests and the elite’s vision of the only correct course.”

According to Putin, when the establishment loses a major vote, mainstream Western politicians and media “sink into hysteria and declare it the result of foreign, usually Russian, propaganda.”

Regarding the current U.S. presidential elections, the Russian speakers at the panel on Democracy 2.0 accused the U.S. media and other establishment institutions of using administrative resources to assist Clinton’s quest for the White House.

Putin also charged Clinton’s team with inventing stories beforehand about Moscow’s supporting Trump to discredit him. Putin also said that candidates find it easier to talk about Russian spies, hackers, and agents of influence rather than focusing on Americans’ real problems like public debt and gun violence.

Many Russian speakers held the policies pursued by the Western establishment since the Cold War as primarily responsible for Moscow’s alienation from the United States and its allies. For example, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cited NATO’s membership expansion as having “spoiled” the possible “establishment of the united and indivisible world.”

Putin added that the alliance’s war against Serbia, the U.S.-UK invasion of Iraq, the NATO intervention in Libya, and Western missile defenses also ruined Russia’s relations with the West.

“We expected equal dialogue, that our interests would be respected, that we would … meet each other halfway,” Putin said at the concluding panel, but the West “offered only unilateral solutions and pursued its objectives at all costs.”

Trump also has said that he wants to deescalate tensions, restore mutual trust, and cooperate more against common threats, above all Islamist terrorism, but also China’s growing power.

He thinks the two leaders could work out a realistic bargain.

Although not supporting Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea or intervention in Ukraine, Trump argues that Washington should have left it to neighboring European powers to deal with the geographically limited Russian threat.

In Syria and the Middle East, Trump has said he wants to get the United States out of the regime-change business and has recognized that the Russian military intervention in Syria helps relieve the U.S. burden of fighting terrorism.

Securing greater Russian-U.S. cooperation regarding terrorism seems plausible. At Sochi, Putin regretted that the United States failed to respond to the information Moscow had sent Washington about the Tsarnayev brothers, who perpetrated the Boston marathon terrorist attack. “If contacts and trust between us and our partners had been better this could have been avoided.”

In contrast, he recalled how “the Americans have provided us with real help, during the preparations for the Olympic Games in Sochi.”

Putin said that Moscow had appealed to Washington to form a joint front against terrorism but had been rejected.

Deescalating tensions in Europe will prove difficult for either candidate.

If Trump wins Tuesday’s election, he and his team will have to face the challenge of how best to resolve differences with Russia in Ukraine and elsewhere.

It should be noted that the last two U.S. administrations made genuine efforts to improve ties with Moscow but the initial forward momentum soon stalled and arguably regress