U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said that it’s necessary to negotiate with Moscow “from a position of strength.” But what about the statement by another of Trump’s confidants, who recently reminded the world that the Russians would rather eat snow than give in to pressure?
In my opinion, the United States’ desire to speak with other countries from a position of strength shouldn’t be a cause for particular concern. What we ought to be concerned about is not negotiating from a position of weakness ourselves. That’s how it was in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Now Russia has grown significantly stronger both in terms of its military power and in terms of its intellect, its willingness to defend its national interests on the world stage. These days, Russia itself negotiates only from a position of strength, and it would be ridiculous to be offended by those who want to speak with us in the same way. It’s quite another matter to cross the line during dialogue and try to pressure us and treat us with contempt — that’s a truly hopeless pursuit.
It’s been 10 years since Vladimir Putin delivered his speech at the Munich Security Conference (in 2007). Everything that the president said then has been fully justified. In the intervening years; we’ve focused our attention inward and begun to re-arm and step up our foreign policy. What’s remarkable is that the documents from yet another Munich Conference, held last week, are strikingly different from what they’ve been in recent years. Before, Russia was declared the main enemy, whereas now the topic of the Russian threat has faded into the background. The West’s main problem is its own internal weakness… And for this very reason, it’s time for the U.S. to give up its “satanization” of Russia, to give up its bizarre and hateful propaganda which, personally, already reminds me quite clearly of pre-war propaganda.
The problem is that Trump’s team doesn’t have enough political support right now for serious agreements with Russia. We’re dealing with an unpredictable and sharply divided elite. Just what will replace the ideology-driven, incompetent and irresponsible U.S. foreign policy of recent years is as yet unclear. But we should try to negotiate with the new administration. Good relations are better than hostile relations, but we shouldn’t have any illusions. There’s no sense discussing what kind of line — hard or soft — Trump will take in relations with Moscow. Trump is an American president and, I dare think, an American patriot. He’s interested first and foremost in America; his goal is to start rebuilding American infrastructure and carrying out economic reforms. He doesn’t really care about Russia, although he also obviously understands that it’s better to be friends with Russia than to be at odds. But we should change, too. We must understand that our future — our success or failure — depends not on Trump, but only on our own politics and, most importantly, our economy.
Sergey Karaganov is the dean of the Department of World Economics and World Politics at the Higher School of Economics.