What move will Moscow make?

For all the chat­ter about the Krem­lin’s sup­posed pref­er­ence for Don­ald Trump over Hil­lary Clin­ton, its strat­egy re­gard­ing US re­la­tions is far from clear

African Independent - - EDUCATION -

its pres­i­dent-elect. As far as in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions go, Putin is now un­doubt­edly at the zenith of his power and in­flu­ence.

Both he and the Rus­sian pub­lic un­der­stand from the al­le­ga­tions about Moscow’s in­ter­fer­ence that the Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy es­tab­lish­ment is in dis­ar­ray. Surely Rus­sia will be em­bold­ened in the near fu­ture to try and ex­tract more con­ces­sions from the West, es­pe­cially in its ven­tures abroad?

Rus­sia might put even more pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment in Kiev to im­ple­ment the terms of the Minsk agree­ments and fed­er­alise Ukraine and give ad­di­tional power to pro-Rus­sian rebels in the east­ern Don­bas re­gion. In Syria, it will strive to keep Bashar al-As­sad in power as part of any fu­ture po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment. The hope is that Trump’s pres­i­dency will more or less will­ingly give in to Rus­sia’s de­mands ei­ther as a sign of good­will or to avoid con­flict with Moscow.

In the minds of many Rus­sians, the emer­gence of the dossier on Trump fur­ther con­firms the fact that Rus­sia is be­sieged by the West, but also le­git­imises Putin’s abil­ity to ex­pand Moscow’s power and in­flu­ence in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. So al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sia med­dling in the West will prob­a­bly have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on Putin’s do­mes­tic ap­proval lev­els. They also play in Rus­sia’s favour as they fur­ther dis­credit Trump’s judge­ment in for­eign pol­icy and ham­per his re­la­tion­ship with the US in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity – but this tac­tic has a down­side too.

At first glance, a strong and as­sertive Trump ready to ride roughshod over the US’s core for­eign pol­icy con­ven­tions might seem like just what Rus­sia wants, but it’s more com­pli­cated than that. Trump is highly un­pre­dictable and to some, ir­ra­tional; while some of the Krem­lin es­tab­lish­ment openly re­joiced in his vic­tory, many will surely be un­easy at the prospect of a US gov­ern­ment whose ac­tions can’t be an­tic­i­pated and coun­tered.

Con­trary to the nar­ra­tive that’s built up around the elec­tion­hack­ing saga, the Rus­sians might well have pre­ferred to deal with Hil­lary Clin­ton, by com­par­i­son a known quan­tity. Her forth­right hawk­ish­ness would have helped the Krem­lin main­tain the sense that the West is out to get Rus­sia. Even be­fore Trump won, there were re­ports that Moscow’s in­ter­ven­tions to help Trump might have been a bet that the im­pres­sion of Rus­sian sup­port for him would scare or dis­gust Amer­i­cans into vot­ing for a more ortho­dox pres­i­dent.

The Rus­sian gov­ern­ment has been adept at us­ing fake news not just abroad, but at home. The aim is to in­stil doubt about re­al­ity it­self; Putin has con­trolled Rus­sian so­ci­ety by cre­at­ing a sur­real sense, as the jour­nal­ist Peter Pom­e­nat­sev puts it, that “noth­ing is true and ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble”. Rus­sia might be us­ing sim­i­lar tac­tics now by cre­at­ing un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing its own ties with Trump and not just the ex­tent of its in­volve­ment in US pol­i­tics, but what that in­volve­ment is in fact meant to achieve.

The Krem­lin will prob­a­bly try to see how far it can push the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to­wards mean­ing­ful for­eign pol­icy con­ces­sions. If it doesn’t work, Putin will surely ar­gue that even though Trump him­self had friendly in­ten­tions, they were killed in the cra­dle by an anti-Rus­sian US es­tab­lish­ment.

But with Trump and his cab­i­net nom­i­nees al­ready ap­par­ently di­verg­ing on fun­da­men­tal Rus­sia pol­icy is­sues, there’s no pre­dict­ing what game the Krem­lin will have to play. – The Con­ver­sa­tion

Al­le­ga­tions of Rus­sia med­dling in the West will prob­a­bly have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on Putin’s do­mes­tic ap­proval lev­els

Cris­tian Ni­toiu is Lec­turer in Pol­i­tics and In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, As­ton Univer­sity

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