Kol (abomvubuso) wrote in talk_politics,

May the bargaining begin

The presidential-level Russian-American dialogue may just be in its baby stages as of now, but it's evident that there are tons of false expectations in both societies about it. I'd argue those are way falser in Russia than in America, at least on a layperson's level. Which may not be the case on an elite's level, though. Do bear with me.

See, by skimming through the Russian blogosphere, one could easily get the impression that the majority of Russians seem convinced that Trump would somehow start an almost immediate warming up to Russia, he'd remove the sanctions, and fight alongside Putin in the Middle East. But in reality, Trump doesn't seem to hurry up about it just yet.

Currently, the US part of the sanctions on Russia includes a package of measures that the Obama administration imposed, together with Congress. Those have the status of law, and it won't be so easy for Trump to just scrap them even if he insisted to. He still doesn't have that many allies among the Senators and House members to do that.

Both Republicans and Democrats have perfected the "Russia is foe number one" game for quite a while. Trump may be rogue and impulsive on the surface, but he's not as stupid as to antagonise all those people with meaningless friendly steps towards Moscow with no strings attached - not while he's still hoping to pass a string of economic measures that would definitely need Congressional assistance. The 100 Day plan that he presented may not have failed completely just yet, but his relations with Congress are rather strained, what with all his recent unilateral executive actions.

There's a big factor here, though, which many may still be overlooking. Trump's latest populist measures are mainly aimed at fostering bigger support among the working class, who are largely his constituents. Which is why any hints that he might be betraying America's interests for the benefit of his Russian buddy-boy, are probably the last thing he needs right now. I know, the Breitbart guru that he hired may've made a smart move by inspiring all those controversial policies, knowing they'd drag thousands of people on the streets for protests, thus allowing Trump to sell the narrative that "You see, those treacherous liberals are defending illegal immigrants and Muslim terrorists" - but Congress is a different game, and is unlikely to buy this sort of crap as far as Putin is concerned.

Still, let's not fool ourselves. The sanctions will be dropped eventually. But that'll take some time. Besides, apart from the domestic obstacles in the US, there are some Chinese ones as well. The "War of Sanctions" has brought Russia and China somewhat closer to each other, and China is of course America's new frenemy now, under Trump's concept for the new world order. Suffice to mention that he's planning to drive the Chinese companies out of the US market, and wouldn't mind expanding the same policy to other countries too. He's opposed to a Russia-China alliance. Which is why he needs an enhanced dialogue with Russia so badly. Putin, maybe not so much.

A possible removal of the sanctions would be preceded by extensive negotiations between the two sides. Trump has already said he considers any talks of sanction removal to be premature. He hasn't even removed the ban on Russian officials from entering the US. If he truly wanted an immediate warming up, he could've done that at this point. The thing is, he's not viewing this relationship as a dialogue - he views it as a bargaining.

The sanctions he inherited from the Obama administration, including the blocking of Russian assets in the US, he would gladly sell away for whatever price he considers beneficial. That could happen on the condition that Russia stops its friendship with China.

Unlike most political observers in the US and the general public in both the US and Russia, most Russian analysts seem to be well aware of the complexity of the issue. The fact that Russia is reluctant to view a possible development of constructive relations with Trump as part of a larger warming up to America, isn't helping much in that respect either.

It's become evident that Congress is biding their time, waiting for the first minor slip-up on Trump's part, to find an excuse for an impeachment procedure. A President Pence would definitely be much easier to control than Trump is, that's for sure. Trump's problem, as far as Russia is concerned, is that he doesn't seem to have a clear idea about how a meaningful relationship with Putin could be developed and sustained, and what goals he should realistically be pursuing if such a dialogue were ever to occur. His new administration are hoping to learn things as they go, a sort of ad hoc approach to geopolitics if you like.

So, what we could expect in 2017 is some changes of the sanctions mode at most. A complete removal of the obstacles to Russian companies and top-level officials is also possible to some extent, but Trump would first need to carefully weigh the positions of Britain, Canada and the EU to a lesser extent.

He has started a bargaining game that he doesn't know what to expect from, one without a clear end-plan. That doesn't mean he's totally lacking strategical goals, though. For instance, it's already become clear that he is opposed to China in a big way, while the Middle East is of little interest to his agenda. He doesn't have an idea what to do about Ukraine, which he may well leave to the dogs, as it is essentially an European problem indeed. As for the EU, his approach still remains unclear. With Britain he does want to be a close friend, but exactly how that economic partnership would be formulated? He doesn't know. A similar question remains about America's relations with Japan and the countries from the former TTP space, which he dismantled so hastily and easily. All in all, negotiations are at hand on almost all fronts.

Trump probably realises that a possible War of Sanctions with Russia is useless. It has practically failed already anyway, as much as the West never really managed to undermine the Russian economy in a way that would hurt it badly - and neither was the West capable of re-distributing Russia's resources in a way that would benefit them. And yet, nothing in Trump's words or actions has shown (yet) that he'd give anything to Russia without a price. The situation is such that any potential warming up between these two would likely have a meandering shape, therefore won't happen quickly. The only thing that matters at this point is that it has suddenly become possible at all.
Tags: diplomacy, putin's downhill slide, russia, trump, usa
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