Monday, November 14, 2016

Trump May Take a Far Tougher Line against Russia than Obama has But It Will Be Different, Arbatov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 14 – Academician Aleksey Arbatov, one of Moscow’s leading foreign policy thinkers, says that despite the expectations of many in the Russian capital, Donald Trump may adopt a far tougher line against the Kremlin than his predecessor and one that will look very different as well.

            In an interview with Kazan’s “Business-Gazeta,” the foreign policy specialist says that his conclusion on this point reflects the real sources of Trump’s victory in the election, the very different approach Americans and Russians have toward the powerful, and Trump’s background in business and ties with the Republican Party (

            A major reason that Trump defeated Hillary Clinton is that Americans don’t like any lone cowboy who is opposed by the powerful, and they viewed the establishment’s attacks on Trump and Clinton’s links to the establishment as a powerful reason to vote for the outsider against the powers that be, Arbatov says.

            This American commitment to supporting the lone outsider be it Rambo in the movies or Trump in the election sets the US apart from Russia. With Russians, the foreign policy writer says, “everything is just the reverse: Except for revolutionary situations, Russians always support the person who is winning and seek to attach themselves to the strong.”

            That support he received as an outsider is what brought Trump to power, but it isn’t by itself going to define his approach in power at least in foreign affairs. Instead, Arbatov says, Trump is likely to rely on precisely members of the Republican foreign policy establishment even though many opposed him.  He is far more intelligent and pragmatic than many think.

            Those in Russia who believe that Trump will lift sanctions and recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea immediately are wrong, he continues. “This is absolutely excluded. Such a sharp turn in relations with Russia will not occur.” There will be big changes in American domestic policies, but “in relations with Russia,” no.

            Unlike Hillary Clinton, however, Trump will not begin with a hostile attitude toward Russia. He “will be open for dialogue with Moscow but he will not make any dramatic gestures” and he won’t call on Russia to “follow great ideals because he understands that Russia and America have very different ones.”

            Instead, Arbatov argues, “trump will pragmatically propose” various trades. “If we do not agree, he will pursue a very harsh policy of pressure” against Russia, and some Russians will start to look back at the Obama years with nostalgia.

            Trump is likely to suggest a number of deals “on Syria, Crimea, Ukraine, the Donbass, and other questions.”  He will offer to make certain concessions but only if Moscow makes some as well. The Kremlin must be ready for that because if Moscow refuses his offers, “Trump will not make them a second time.”

            He “is a businessman; he makes one proposal. If he is rejected, he either turns away or will adopt methods to put pressure” on his interlocutor.” And if he does so, he will adopt “a completely different approach than Obama has.” For example, he won’t be pushing for nuclear disarmament or new talks about it.

            The present US-Russian accord runs out only in 2021, and “Trump will want that his hands be untied.” He won’t talk as much as the Democrats do about human rights, but like previous Republican presidents he will adopt a harsher line with Russia in many other areas.

            “Beginning in the 1970s,” Arbatov says, “the Americans have had the philosophy that nuclear weapons are the only sphere where the Soviet Union then and Russia now is the equal of the United States.” The Democrats sought to reduce Russia’s ability to influence the world by reducing nuclear weapons; but the Republicans have taken a different line.

            They agree that nuclear weapons are the only basis of Russia’s claim to equality with the US, but they believe that since “the US has immeasurably greater economic power and technological potential [they] must show the Russians that even in this sphere we will leave them far behind if they do not adopt our conditions.”

            That will lie behind the kind of proposals Trump is likely to make to Moscow. In Syria, he will want the US to have the dominant role in deciding whom to attack and will seek Moscow’s acquiescence by agreeing to allow Bashar al-Asad to remain in office for a few more years but not forever.

            As far as Ukraine is concerned, Arbatov says, “Trump will say: return Donetsk and Luhansk to Ukraine, allow the Ukrainians to control the border between Russia and the Donbass and we will life all sanction which are connected with the Donbass and with Crimea.” Moreover, although “formally” Trump will refuse to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, “he will cease to make it an obstacle for bilateral relations and cooperation in other areas.”

            If Putin rejects such proposals, he concludes, “Trump will say: I’m a businessman. I created an empire. I make a proposal once. If you don’t take it, things will be worse for you in the future.”

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