Staunton, November 22 – It didn’t take long. In the immediate wake of the US elections, Russians were ecstatic about the possibilities of a Trump presidency and many in Ukraine, the Baltic countries and the Caucasus viewed their prospects in apocalyptic terms convinced that the incoming American president would “make a deal” with Vladimir Putin at their expense.
Now, just two weeks after the vote, ever more commentators in the region are suggesting that a Trump Administration may in reality cause far more problems for Moscow than for themselves and even suggesting it won’t be long until the Kremlin will be wishing that Hillary Clinton rather than Trump were in the White House.
Among the numerous articles reflecting this shift in opinion, three this week are especially suggestive.
In an interview with Krymr.com’s Kseniya Kirillova, David Shakhnazaryan of Yerevan’s Center for Regional Research, says that it is a mistake to think that what Trump said in his campaign will dictate what he does when he is in office given the constraints he will be operating under (ru.krymr.com/a/28130633.html).
It is true, the Armenian expert says, that “the first several years of a Trump administration may turn out to be the most difficult for all the post-Soviet states.” But he argues that it is beyond the powers of any one individual, even a President Trump, “to turn the foreign policy of the US 180 degrees.”
“Putin obviously wants some kind of Yalta-2 which would automatically mean not only a return to the Cold War but would create an additional threat to Europe,” he continues, noting that “relations with Europe for the US are in any case more important than its relations with Russia.”
Indeed, Shakhnazaryan suggests, Trump may follow the same trajectory Barack Obama did when it comes to Moscow, seeking first points of agreement and then, disappointed by the Kremlin’s aggressiveness and revisionist actions, adopting a much harder line. He will certainly be pushed in that direction by the American political system.
“Because the situation now is much more dangerous than it was in 2008, the defense mechanisms of [the US] system will work sooner and at the end of the Trump Administration, Putin will be dreaming about how much better it would have been to have had Hillary Clinton” in the White House.
Trump’s appointments so far show that this system is already working, and thus, the Armenian expert says, “it is not excluded that under Trump, Crimea will be returned to Ukraine.” Indeed, if Trump were to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, “this would lead to his immediate impeachment.” Moreover, he will support NATO because that is about US security.
Ukrainian analyst Vyacheslav Golub echoes many of these points in a commentary today for the Apostrophe portal. The expert at Kyiv’s International Center for Prognostication says there may be “a honeymoon” between Putin and Trump but it will end with “major arguments” (apostrophe.ua/article/politics/2016-11-22/medovyiy-mesyats-putina-i-trampa-kogda-jdat-krupnoy-ssoryi/8453).
Given the nature of the two leading personalities involved, he suggests, that will have “unpredictable consequences.”
Golub sees Trump supporting a non-recognition policy regarding Crimea like the one the US adopted after Moscow’s occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940. And that is not the only indication that “history has a tendency to repeat itself” especially as incoming leaders learn what the world is really like.
“In proclaiming friendship with Russia,” the Kyiv analyst says, “Donald Trump still doesn’t understand that ‘the Russian rebirth’ is to take place under conditions of the weakening of America’s international positions and that Moscow will not agree to an equal partnership with Washington.”
For a president committed to “making America great again,” that will be unacceptable. And when the US and Russia enter into a new round of conflict, it will be between “not only two leading world powers but also two strong and unpredictable personalities.” What that means for Ukraine and other countries is that they must figure out how to act in such conflict.
And the Newsrader portal offers the view of its analysts that “the first steps of Donald Trump as US president will disappoint the Kremlin. Much of Trump’s 100 days program works against Russian interests even if some in Moscow still hope for understanding between Trump and Putin (newsader.com/31510-tramp-obnarodoval-programmu-antiros/).
In seeking to “make America great again,” it argues, Trump “intends to take measures which in the mid-range perspective will deprive the Russian budget of a significant portion of its oil dollar earnings” by boosting US oil production and driving prices down, “exclude for the Kremlin the legal possibility of influencing White House policy” by limiting lobbying, and make any Russian military moves potentially more dangerous by boosting US defense spending.