US-Rus­sia hos­til­ity is on hold - but for how long?

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Af­ter years of ris­ing USRus­sia ten­sions over Ukraine, Syria, cy­ber at­tacks and nuclear arms con­trol, Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion as US pres­i­dent may of­fer a nar­row window to re­pair re­la­tions as he and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin size up each other. But Trump’s as­cent to the White House car­ries the risk of danger­ous mis­cal­cu­la­tion if the US pres­i­dent-elect and Putin, two will­ful per­son­al­i­ties and self-styled strong lead­ers who have ex­changed oc­ca­sional com­pli­ments, de­cide they have mis­judged one an­other, ac­cord­ing to Rus­sia ex­perts and oth­ers.

US of­fi­cials and pri­vate an­a­lysts pre­dict that Putin, who has re­asserted Moscow’s mil­i­tary and political mus­cle from east­ern Europe to the Mid­dle East, will avoid openly pro­vok­ing Trump be­fore he takes of­fice. “Putin has the abil­ity to ad­vance his in­ter­ests in many dif­fer­ent ways. Some­times tac­ti­cal diplomacy can help,” said Fiona Hill, a se­nior fel­low at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, a Washington think-tank. “We’re in tem­po­rary truce phase,” said Hill, who has served as the US national in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer for Rus­sia and Eura­sia in the Ge­orge W Bush and Obama ad­min­is­tra­tions and co-au­thored a book on Putin.

Michael McFaul, a for­mer US am­bas­sador to Moscow un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, said Putin likely will wait to see if he can reach some ac­com­mo­da­tion with Trump to al­low the lift­ing of Ukrainere­lated sanc­tions im­posed by Washington and the Euro­pean Union that have con­trib­uted to Rus­sia’s grow­ing economic woes. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Trump was crit­i­cized by his Demo­cratic Party ri­val, Hil­lary Clin­ton, for prais­ing Putin as a strong leader and say­ing ties with Rus­sia should be im­proved at a time when Moscow and Washington are at odds over Syria and Ukraine.

Trump rat­tled Washington’s Euro­pean al­lies with com­ments ques­tion­ing NATO’s mutual self-de­fense pledge and sug­gest­ing that he might rec­og­nize Rus­sia’s 2014 an­nex­a­tion of Ukraine’s Crimea re­gion. Putin last year called Trump “a re­ally bril­liant and tal­ented per­son” and the Krem­lin said on Thurs­day that the US pres­i­dent-elect’s for­eign pol­icy ap­proach was “phe­nom­e­nally close” to that of the Rus­sian leader.

Putin “has a future pres­i­dent who has ex­pressed a de­sire to co­op­er­ate, who has ex­pressed a de­sire to move away from the Obama poli­cies. Why would you screw that up with a provo­ca­tion?” asked McFaul, now at Stanford Univer­sity. In Syria, a US of­fi­cial said, Putin ap­pears to be ex­tend­ing a “humanitarian” pause in air strikes against mod­er­ate rebels hold­ing the east­ern side of Aleppo to give Trump an op­por­tu­nity to af­firm the will­ing­ness he ex­pressed dur­ing the cam­paign to seek a more co­op­er­a­tive USRus­sian re­la­tion­ship.

“I think they were hold­ing their fire for the pur­pose of de­creas­ing the in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on them, and now, like the rest of the world, they may be tak­ing stock of the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion,” said the of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity. But US of­fi­cials cau­tion that Rus­sia still may feel com­pelled to launch more at­tacks af­ter dis­patch­ing a naval task force led by the ag­ing air­craft car­rier Ad­mi­ral Kuznetsov to the east­ern Mediter­ranean in a show of force.

Con­flict in Cy­berspace

The US gov­ern­ment has publicly ac­cused Moscow of hack­ing the Demo­cratic National Com­mit­tee and other party or­ga­ni­za­tions dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign, which Rus­sia has de­nied. Trump de­clined to blame Rus­sia, and the Elec­tion Day Rus­sian cy­ber at­tacks that some of­fi­cials feared never ma­te­ri­al­ized. Trump has not laid out a de­tailed Rus­sia pol­icy, and many in his party, in­clud­ing po­ten­tial top ad­vi­sors and cab­i­net of­fi­cials, have taken a hawk­ish view of Moscow.

For­mer House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives speaker Newt Gin­grich, a Trump ally ru­mored for a se­nior post, lam­basted in 2014 what he called Obama’s weak re­sponse to Rus­sia’s land-grab in Ukraine. Putin, Gin­grich wrote, is “a ruth­lessly de­ter­mined leader mo­ti­vated by na­tion­al­ism and an im­pe­rial drive.” And while there was cel­e­bra­tion in Moscow af­ter Trump’s vic­tory over for­mer sec­re­tary of state Clin­ton, who has been sharply crit­i­cal of Putin, some Rus­sians cau­tioned against eu­pho­ria.

“The idea that it will be eas­ier to strike a deal with Trump than Clin­ton is wrong. ... Ev­ery­thing will be tested when we get down to busi­ness,” an­a­lyst Vladimir Bruter told the daily pro-Krem­lin tabloid Kom­so­mol­skaya Pravda be­fore Tues­day’s elec­tion. — Reuters

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