Monday, November 21, 2016

Putin's Delight At A Trump Win May Soon Wither

Putin’s delight at Trump win may soon wither

Russia support for US president-elect’s foreign policy is likely to become strained
As the outcome of the US presidential election was confirmed, Moscow’s lower house of parliament cheered. The parliamentary nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky was pictured drinking champagne with colleagues. Alexander Dugin, a far-right ideologue, said Russia could now drop its anti-Americanism.
Donald Trump’s victory has prompted near-jubilation in Russia. Even before the president-elect spoke to Vladimir Putin last week and pledged to rebuild ties, the Kremlin spokesman suggested the two men’s foreign policy views were “phenomenally close”. Ordinary Russians, who spent much of last month being warned by state media that Washington was about to trigger a third world war over Syria, have welcomed the result too.
Many senior Russians view the Republican president-elect as a businessman more interested in dealmaking than values, with whom it might be able to reach the kind of bargain it has long craved: to carve out a Russian “sphere of influence” in Europe and curb Nato expansion.
Yet while there are strong indications Mr Trump will seek a deal with his Russian counterpart, there is no guarantee it will succeed. Indeed, the incoming US president might prove trickier for Moscow to handle than it expects.
While Russia intervened at an unprecedented degree in the US election through hacks and leaks, it is wrong to suggest Mr Trump is a “Russian project”.
Moscow’s main aims seem to have been to hinder the presidential chances of Hillary Clinton, whom it fears and dislikes, and ensure her expected victory was as narrow and rancorous as possible. It also wanted to tarnish and discredit US democracy, a task in which the Republican candidate’s eccentricities and often extreme statements initially came as a boon to Russian television and newspapers.
Russia’s English-language media only began backing Mr Trump more overtly when it appeared he actually had a chance of winning. The president-elect’s volatility and capriciousness will have been noted in Moscow. Mr Putin has made springing surprises part of his own political modus operandi. But he prefers his friends and enemies alike to be consistent, known quantities — everything Mr Trump is not.
“The new American president-elect’s unpredictable personality could make for a stormy relationship,” said Alexander Baunov of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Some of Mr Trump’s campaign comments hinting he could recognise Russia’s claim to Crimea, pledging to end liberal interventionism, and backing Russia’s approach to the war in Syria are welcome to Moscow. Others portend potential frictions.
Mr Trump has threatened to scrap last year’s nuclear deal with Iran — an agreement Russia helped negotiate, with a country it views as an ally. The president-elect has also taken a combative stance towards China, with which Russia has worked hard to build ties in recent years. Moscow recently restarted advanced arms technology sales to Beijing after a decade-long informal ban.
A further complicating factor is the possibility that Congress, and Mr Trump’s cabinet, could play a restraining role. Both Houses are now packed with “traditional” Republicans who take a hawkish line towards Russia and are unlikely to welcome any deal that smacks of caving in to the Kremlin’s demands.
The names the president-elect is considering for top security jobs also make smooth relations with Russia far from a certainty. They run the gamut from General Michael Flynn, a Russia dove whom Mr Trump has chosen as his national security adviser, to figures such as Mitt Romney, who is much more hawkish.
A final issue is personality. Both men revel in their image as macho leaders. But political strongmen do not necessarily get on well with each other. History has plenty of examples of those who have fallen out — with dangerous consequences for the world.

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