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Russian Observers Parse US President's Congressional Speech

  • Danila Galperovich

President Donald Trump gestures toward Democrats while addressing a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.

President Donald Trump did not utter the word "Russia" In his address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week. Still, observers in Moscow zeroed in on parts of his speech, including this one: "America is willing to find new friends, and to forge new partnerships, where shared interests align."

President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Wednesday that no one in the government felt put off that Trump did not mention Russia, saying it was "natural" that Trump was "busy with American affairs while our president Putin is busy with Russian affairs."

Peskov added that U.S. and Russian interests overlap, including in such areas as anti-terrorism, and that Moscow is "full of patience" in its bid to work with Washington on such issues.

For his part, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, told VOA's Russian service that he saw much that was new in Trump's speech.

"The speech differed rather significantly from what we are used to hearing from Trump," he said.

President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.
President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 28, 2017.

"He was much more cautious, significantly more streamlined in his wording," he added. "I have the impression he is changing the style of his behavior; he is trying to please not just a certain group of voters, but the greatest possible number of listeners. He is saying things that are expected of him, about which some time ago he had doubts. I think he is starting to draw conclusions from his not very long experience in the presidency, during which his focus on confronting those who disagree with him and attempt to impose his point of view brought Trump significantly more problems than solutions."

Like Peskov, Kosachev said he was not upset that Trump did not mention Russia. "I hope this is a sign that Trump's Russia policy is still in the formative stage, that this stage will be qualified and, ultimately, productive. I would like to believe that the time of slogans that often contradict one another will pass and that a more long-term strategy, both in foreign policy generally and the Russian part of the policy in particular, will be formed."

Kosachev said he thinks that on the basis of what the U.S. president said in his speech, it will be possible to build a new relationship with Moscow.

"I suspect that he will be prepared to build relations with external partners without excessive ideologization, not separating them into unquestioned allies and notorious enemies, but rather, in each case, weighing all the pros' and cons' from the point of view of how this will then affect the implementation of his program within the country, whether it will help to create new jobs, whether it will help to reduce the public debt, and so on," he said. "... This is pragmatism, which, in my opinion, creates some hope that there will be something to negotiate with Trump."

President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address during the Inauguration at the Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017.
President Donald Trump delivers his inaugural address during the Inauguration at the Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2017.



While Trump’s victory in last November’s U.S. presidential election was widely welcomed in Moscow, that enthusiasm has since dwindled almost to nothing. In his interview with VOA, Konstantin Kosachev tried to explain why this happened.

"This reaction to the outcome of the American election was more satisfaction with the fact that Mrs. Clinton did not win," he said, referring to Trump's opponent, Democrat and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

"There was really very serious concern here that her victory would either change nothing or lead to further deterioration of Russian-American relations," he said. "… The Trump victory at least created some space for hope. We are closely watching developments. We anticipate how they will develop without exaggerating the significance of a new president for Russian-American relations, but at the same time not losing hope that at least something could change for the better."

Independent journalist Konstantin von Eggert t said he thinks Trump is committed to the priorities he declared during his campaign.

"It should be noted that he is remaining true to his election promises in regard to, for example, immigration, security, increasing military spending; on the foreign policy front, to competition or even confrontation with China and Iran and support for Israel," von Eggert said. "But the specific method of implementing these pledges has not yet been fully determined. Still, something will be subject to change, given the harsh reaction which, for example, Donald Trump's anti-immigration decree aroused in January."

Eggert said the Kremlin might like some aspects of Trump's foreign policy, saying in some ways, it "probably suits the current Russian leadership."

"Obviously," he added, "such things as human rights, let's say, and various elements connected to political democracy in other countries are not very important to Trump. He openly says that he is not going to teach others how to live."

Still, Eggert believes that, in general, what the new U.S. president has already laid out does not promise anything positive for Russia.

"His statements about support for NATO, his intention to be tough with Beijing and Tehran — these are all the things that Moscow either cannot be happy about, or which will present it with an unpleasant choice, especially in regard to relations involving the Moscow-Tehran-Washington and Moscow-Beijing-Washington triangles," he said. "

He said Trump, or "Trumpist Washington may ask Russia either to join in a more hardline stance toward Iran and China, or to offer to step aside. Neither choice is acceptable for Moscow."

"By all accounts, relations with Russia are not a priority for Donald Trump, even if he finds a common language with Putin on Syria," said Eggert. "If Moscow, to one degree or another, winds up in the way of Washington, in the way of Trump in the implementation of his policies, here the consequences may be extreme.

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