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
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