Staunton, February 27 – Moscow analysts have been on a rollercoaster about Donald Trump ever since he was against their expectations elected in November 2016. Initially, many of them expected a golden age of Russian-American cooperation. Then, they decided he lacked the power to oppose anti-Russian groups in the US and might even be impeached.
Now, ever more of them are suggesting that Trump’s own “America first” nationalism is driving Washington’s foreign policy, that he has rebuilt his standing inside the US to the point that some are predicting he’ll be re-elected in 2020, and that Moscow must be prepared for an unpredictable but often hostile US for the next six years.
That new consensus in Russian thinking is well-reflected in interview Sergey Karaganov, one of Moscow’s most respected geopolitical thinkers, gave to Argumenty i fakty several weeks ago that was republished today in the influential journal, Russia in World Affairs (globalaffairs.ru/pubcol/Vtoroi-srok-Donalda-Trampa-vpolne-realen-19387).
“Trump is winning,” the Moscow commentator says. “It is already common ground that he will not be removed and that he is beginning to push his own agenda in both domestic and foreign policy. That agenda pleases a significant part of Americans, and Trump’s ratings … have stabilized despite the wild hysteria in the American media.”
According to Karagannov, Trump “has every chance not only to work to the end of his first term but to have a second. In the worst case, he could put in his place his daughter Ivanka. I’m joking,” the Moscow analyst says, “but in every joke as they say, there is only a dollop of joking.”
Trump has adjusted to America’s diminished status in the world by promoting “limited involvement without obligations,” Karaganov says. This requires special forces but is relatively inexpensive. The military like it, they and the military-industrial complex are part of his base, and he supports this approach.
According to the Moscow commentator, “strategy doesn’t lie: [Russia and the US] really are competitors but we are not opponents, although a significant part of the old liberal elite of the US considers us enemies. Trump is attached to a healthier conception;” and no one directly challenged what he has outlined in his national security strategy.
To be sure, Karaganov continues, “Trump’s America is extremely aggressive and imperialistic. But which is an America which above all is concerned not about global values but about its own interests. It is understandable, and it can and must be contained, and in some places, one may event try to reach agreements with it.”
One should not expect an improvement in Russian-American relations anytime soon, he says. “Trump would like to develop relations with us, but he sees that this will give him an enormous number of minuses and very few pluses from the point of view of his domestic situation. Therefore, he has put this task off.”
In thinking about Russia’s relationship with the US, he continues, Moscow must recognize that improving ties with Trump would require above all Russia distancing itself from China.” And at present, “relations with China are orders of magnitudes more important than those with the US.”
According to Karagannov, “confrontation with the US is going to last a long time. Its main cause consists in the fact that the Americans have finally understood that they have lost military supremacy and that Russia and its nuclear weapons, which limit the possibilities of the US to impose its policy on the world, is to blame.”
Another reason for the deterioration of ties is that the American elite “has lost control over its own population as a result of which Trump came to power. They want to restore this control by any means possible and in the first instance by control over social media.” Russia can be useful as a scarecrow for them.