The optimistic hopes of Russian patriots for Trump’s abrupt turn toward Moscow as well as the symmetrically structured fears of American Democrats turned out to be premature, exaggerated and naïve, which, in fact, should have been expected from the very beginning. Neither the new U.S. president, who is consistently committed to the principles of rough national egotism, nor the U.S. foreign policy towards Russia, can change with merely the wave of a wand.
In fact, everything that the “real man” Trump could have done and actually has done only made U.S. foreign policy toward the Kremlin more severe. Instead of canceling some of the sanctions that were implemented under the Obama administration, which in fact Washington was afraid of since last summer, the new administration just three months after the inauguration is already discussing the expansion of anti-Russia sanctions. This is the conclusion of the first three months of Trump, and the fun has just begun.
The message is clear: not the “phenomenal similarity” that was supposedly found between Trump and Putin, not involving personal charisma, not this strange childish superstition that if Trump is against Hillary that means he is “pro-Russia,” not even the notorious laughter of the Russian "Iskanders"* could change the main thing. This main thing is based on the fact that Washington thinks that Putin’s Russia represents a very serious challenge to international stability and security, and that Russia’s actions are contrary to the interests of the U.S. and its allies. Basically, the intra-American disputes over Moscow relate only to the seriousness of this challenge, as well as the ways in which this challenge should be resolved.
Surprisingly, Democrat Barack Obama, as perfectly as we can see it now, was nearly the best suitable partner for Russia. The previous president was taking a left-liberal line and was a supporter of a relatively soft policy and maximum equality, which only the biggest economy and military power in the world can allow itself in relations with partners whose weight in the world economy is significantly less than the economic weight of California. Originally, Obama truly believed in the rationalism and realism of his Russian partners. He rightfully thought that Russia would be fairly satisfied with the status of a regional power. This is exactly why in 2008 Obama practically ignored Moscow’s military activity in Georgia, and did not even notice that by doing so he supported very dangerous ambitions and intentions. But after that when everyone realized that Russia saw its mission exclusively in the interest of the restoration of empire and reclamation of land, it was already too late. Obama’s foreign policy was at an impasse, where concrete actions were swallowed up by endless declamations. This was a real failure, which mainly cost Democrats a victory in the last presidential election.
So what would Trump do with all this inheritance? Those who seriously thought that, while being a conservative who is against same-sex marriage, he would sit with the Kremlin at the bargaining table, start a “new Yalta”** and redivide the world, so that Russia, as in Stalin’s time, would have some sort of fixed “sphere of influence,” perhaps should be disqualified as completely misunderstanding the foundations of modern international politics.
Change of Policy
Since at least the late 1980s, an entirely different principle in the world finally won. Access to markets under the conditions of free trade and international financial capital now plays a truly significant role, instead of the feudal control over territories and protectionist barriers pursued by the absolutist monarchies of 18th century Europe.
The role of national states in this long-term global system is distinguished not only by their geopolitical resources but even more by their competitive advantage and place in the world market system. Moreover, the exclusion or at least limitation of the presence of a country in the world system (through international sanctions or voluntarily, "self-reliance") significantly harms national development and power. Thus, protectionist Trump can hardly argue with that, not to speak of all these counties that are trailing nearly at the end of the world's ratings of economic development, human capital and the stability of the internal system.
It is hardly a surprise that President Trump, almost from the very beginning, had to practically abandon certain aspects of his domestic political promises. His personal, rather antiquated, if not to say wild points of view on the questions of economic development, international migration and social politics instantly shattered after facing the reality. This is obviously a rather unlucky beginning to his presidency, especially in the eyes of voters from the Midwest. One may ask how this person who promised to make America “great again” will be able to compensate for the losses of his own popularity? Indeed, the recipe to a certain extent was borrowed from the Kremlin. If there is no expectation of great success inside the country, it is time to win a loud and cost-effective victory in the international arena. Here, Trump and Putin indeed have a lot in common. But the differences are still more important.
The last days sadly demonstrate the rapidly developing parameters of the new Cold War. Against the United States and its allies around the world, from Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East to Japan and South Korea in the Pacific, with China's apparent neutrality, the new "continental block" consists of Iran and Russia, which are under sanctions and whose economy depends on oil prices, Assad’s Syria, which is devastated by war, Hezbollah, which is sponsored by Tehran, and North Korea, which is increasingly supported by Moscow. By examining these contexts, it is not difficult to predict a number of dramatic events that will likely change the picture of the modern world in the foreseeable future, and at the same time, perhaps, will save Mr. Trump's reputation in the eyes of Americans and U.S. allies.
*Translator’s note: By “notorious laughter” the writer is referring to the noise that the Russian mobile missile system “Iskander” makes, and also to the redeployment of this missile system to Kaliningrad/Eastern Europe.
**Translator’s note: The term refers to a historic meeting held in 1945, the final days of World War II, between the Allied leaders Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. They met in Yalta to decide the fate of post-war Europe. They carved up the continent for what was supposed to be a period leading to democracy. What came out of Yalta, however, was a divided Europe, with the Soviet Union imposing repressive Communist regimes throughout its sphere of influence — Eastern Europe and the Soviet Republics — for nearly half a century.