Rapprochement on Russia's Terms

Why It Won't Work for the United States

Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, December 2016.  Mikhail Klimentyev / Kremlin / REUTERS

Donald Trump’s inauguration as U.S. president will come at a pivotal moment for Russian foreign policy. Facing persistent economic stagnation and a presidential election next year, Russia has an interest in consolidating its recent gains abroad. At the same time, political uncertainty in the West is presenting new opportunities to Moscow. 

The fall of Aleppo to Syrian government forces backed by Russian airpower, together with Russia's diplomatic outreach to Turkey and Iran, has created an opening for Russia to preserve its core interests in Syria and allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare victory there. And although the conflict in eastern Ukraine remains deadlocked, Russian observers believe that time is on Russia’s side, as the West’s appetite for upholding sanctions wanes and the standing of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko weakens amid corruption scandals and a sputtering economy. Eventually, Moscow hopes, Kiev will have to choose either a deal on Russia’s terms or an unaffordable military escalation that would further alienate its Western partners.

Because Trump has called for improved relations with Russia and has selected a number of appointees and advisers who have done the same, Russian officials believe that his presidency will provide an opportunity for their country to consolidate its gains in both Syria and Ukraine. More broadly, Moscow hopes to scale back tensions with the United States and secure Washington's assent for a new, multipolar world order based on the spheres of influence of the great powers rather than on the liberal norms and institutions that dominated the post-Cold War era.

Russia and the United States will confront each other in Europe whatever Trump desires.

Russian leaders know that previous attempts at improving U.S.-Russian ties have failed and that Trump is unpredictable, but they nevertheless believe that Trump’s election creates the opportunity for a détente with the United States. Putin’s recent comments and Russia’s new Foreign Policy Concept, along with articles in the state-controlled press, all suggest

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