WORLDCRUNCH NOTE TO READERS: This article was originally published in Kommersant on Nov. 10, two days after Donald Trump's election win. Since then, there have been reports that Russian computer hackers may have interfered in the U.S. election in Trump's favor. Also Trump had since called Taiwan’s president, sparking a diplomatic row with China. Nevertheless, we believe the broader viewpoints of Russian experts of the shape of Trump's presidency is worth reading.
MOSCOW — The U.S. president-elect has not yet delved into the details of the many foreign policy dossiers, and we are still waiting to find out which of his campaign promises will be fulfilled. And it is telling that Donald Trump’s first speech after winning the election was almost entirely devoted to issues of domestic policy. Still, even this address could be key to understanding how he will approach his international priorities. By repeating his resolve to make "America great again," Trump has left little doubt that he will be putting national interests first.
Still, the question of what Trump's election mean for Russia, and the world cannot be underestimated. A range of policy experts seem to agree that there is a very real prospect that Russia will no longer be seen as "Enemy No. 1," to be replaced by China, as was the case under the previous US administration.
Alexander Lomanov, chief researcher at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told Kommersant that Beijing is preparing for the relationship with Washington to deteriorate under Donald Trump. Even during Barack Obama’s time in office, when tensions with Moscow were more acute, Sino-American relations suffered as well from rising political tension, linked to the situation in the South China Sea, the need to protect Washington's Asian allies and democratic protests in Hong Kong. But with Trump, it could reach a whole different level. "Following the change of administration in the White House, there could be a real scenario where economic pressures lead to an all-out trade war with China. "A critical mass of aggravations could lead to a deterioration in U.S.-China relations," Lomanov explained.
Maksim Suchkov, of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) says the ideological dimensions of international relations will be much less important to Trump than the economic ones. Moscow is betting on the change in administration in the White House bringing a "new system of national security priorities whereby Russia is not the main threat." For this to happen, Moscow must "find an entry point into the system being formed by Trump," Suchkov says.
Give and take
To achieve this goal, the Russian authorities must take reciprocal steps. "First of all, we must reduce the level of anti-American rhetoric and everyday anti-Americanism (among Russians), and convince Americans that cooperation with Russia is favorable for them," said Suchkov. "If the new U.S. administration will be more receptive to such signals from Moscow and will increasingly focus on finding new opportunities for America, the meaningful containment of China will become a much more urgent task for Donald Trump than confrontation with Russia."
Vladimir Sotnikov, director of "Russia-East-West" says Trump's tone on Moscow is a direct reversal from the outgoing administration. "Remember, who were listed as the main enemies of the United States according to Barack Obama? Russia, the "Islamic State" and Ebola," Sotnikov said. "President Trump is unlikely to stick to such an approach. He is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. He understands that Russia does not threaten the vital American interests. This means that the path is clear for a dialogue with Moscow and for possible geopolitical exchanges, on which the Democratic administration in the White House would never have agreed."