Russia and US ties are going downhill, despite Trump’s initial bonhomie
Trump’s desire for closer ties with Russia faced opposition from almost every element of the US bureaucracy, security apparatus, legislature and his own Republican Party.editorials Updated: Apr 16, 2017 18:43 IST
Nation-states have permanent interests and, among great powers, not even presidential friendships can get in the way. This geopolitical truism is evident from President Donald Trump’s abortive attempts to move the United States government’s policy towards Russia to a less confrontational path. In no other foreign policy area was the gap between candidate Trump and the Washington establishment greater than his professed admiration for Vladimir Putin, scepticism about the Western alliance and opposition to economic sanctions against Russia. Trump now admits that US-Russia relations are at “an all-time low” and the Kremlin speaks of bilateral ties having “worsened” with the new administration.
The Trump administration was initially seen as a godsend by Moscow. The Ukraine crisis and Russia’s military intervention in Syria had led to a consensus across much of the West that a tough stance was needed to counter Putin. A Russophilic US administration would have put paid to this policy. While the economic sanctions were only pinpricks, they exaggerated much deeper Russian economic problems brought about by the slump in global oil and gas prices, a near halving of the private sector’s contribution to Russia’s GDP in the past 15 years and a stagnant investment-to-GDP ratio. While Moscow has been able to sustain growth by dipping into reserves it built up during the commodity boom, it needs advanced technology and foreign investment to ensure growth in the years to come. The hope Trump would be the key to all this is now almost gone.
An individual’s whimsies, even a president, can ultimately never prevail in a polity with strong institutions. Trump’s desire for closer ties with Russia faced opposition from almost every element of the US bureaucracy, security apparatus, legislature and his own Republican Party. Evidence the Kremlin may have sought to interfere in the US presidential elections in Trump’s favour only added legitimacy to the system’s efforts to maintain the traditional run of the US’s Russia policy. The US is now almost deliberately bearding the Russian bear in his lair. The barrage of cruise missiles against a Syrian regime backed by Moscow has been followed by the use of a fuel-air explosive in Afghanistan on the eve of a Russian-hosted multinational Afghan peace conference. India would have preferred some sort of US-Russia rapprochement, not least because a return to quasi-Cold War days seems to benefit China’s global standing the most. New Delhi must now assume that there will be no Trump healing touch to one of the world’s oldest geopolitical faultlines and adjust its policies accordingly in places like the western Pacific and Afghanistan.