President-elect Donald Trump has expressed doubts about whether Moscow was involved in hacking computer systems connected to the U.S. Democratic Party. He also has called for improved relations with Russia, and even praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for choosing not to respond in kind to last week’s expulsion of Russian diplomats from the U.S.
At the same time, a leading member of Trump’s own party is promising “new sanctions” against Russia, beyond those just imposed by the outgoing Obama administration in response to Russian hacking. Among those targeted by the latest sanctions are top officials of the GRU, the Russian military’s intelligence agency, which has been blamed for the Democratic Party hacks.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that he and his colleagues will introduce sanctions targeting not only Russia’s energy sector, banking sector, and intelligence agencies — including the GRU and Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s principal intelligence agency — but also “Putin and his inner circle.”
Given the seemingly contradictory plans of the incoming American president and senior legislators from his own party, how do Russian foreign policy experts expect the bilateral relationship with the United States to develop with the departure of President Barack Obama and the arrival of Donald Trump?
Political scientist Lilia Shevtsova told VOA’s Russian service that while “mainstream” foreign policy experts in Russia are calling for expanding the channels of communication between the Russian and American establishments, there is no guarantee that will happen.
She noted that Obama tried something similar in 2008 with then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, but the effort ultimately failed.
“It’s a good idea, but hardly a recipe for normalization,” she said. “Indeed, during the Obama-Medvedev ‘reset,’ a multi-level system of communication between the two sides was created. However, did it help the relationship avoid a crisis?”
Russian foreign policy experts, Shevtsova added, continue to adhere to the idea. It is inherited from Yevgeny Primakov, the veteran Soviet and Russian foreign minister who died in 2015, of a “multipolar world” that is supposed to emerge after the United States steps away from its position as global leader.
"Well, America is crawling into its shell, and we are approaching a multipolar world,” she said. “But there is every reason to believe it will be a Hobbesian world — a struggle of all against all. And how comfortable will Russia be in this world, given its far from immense economic and military resources?"
Valery Garbuzov, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, told VOA that many Russians are hopeful Donald Trump’s presidency will lead to an improvement in bilateral relations.
"I believe that the main task consists primarily in the promotion of economic and trade cooperation, which may lead to the necessity of lifting sanctions, and after that, everything else, including scientific and cultural contacts,” he said. “If you think in terms of the four-year [U.S.] presidential term, then, of course, it would be nice if a broad agenda between the two countries were built during that time."
Still, Garbuzov said he is not sure Trump will be able to overcome the deterioration in bilateral relations that took place over the last several years, or likely opposition to his initiatives, including a possible new U.S.-Russia “reset,” from both Democrats and members of his own party.
“After all, there is Congress; though it is dominated by Republicans, they love Trump ‘through clenched teeth,’” he said. “To say nothing of the Democrats; it is clear that they are extremely unhappy, and many are even shocked by what happened" in the 2016 presidential election.