“The rift between the two nations is beginning to mend, which will have vast implications on geopolitics”
In just a few short weeks, Donald Trump will transition from “President-elect” to the President of the United States of America. The citizens of arguably, the world’s foremost superpower have chosen an uncertain future following an eight-year Obama administration. Only one thing is for sure: relations between two global giants Russia and America are likely to evolve dramatically under a Trump orchestration.
Since the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, American-Russian interrelations have dropped to freezing point. This could all change in the coming months with what may become a fruitful alliance between two of the most powerful men on the planet. The rift between the two nations is beginning to mend, which will have vast implications on geopolitics.
There are thousands of miles between the Kremlin and the White House. However, Russian media were hugely focused on the election in the run up to the historic result. Following accusations from the Clinton campaign and US cyber security that Russian hackers had stolen emails from Clinton’s private server, relations grew as tense as ever. Throughout the course of Clinton’s campaign, her emails were leaked and her campaign made serious allegations that Moscow were to blame. President of Russia Vladimir Putin has vehemently denied any such involvement.
The role of the media
Russia Today (RT) is a news network funded by the Russian government. The EU parliament have recently claimed that RT “distorts truth” in a move to counter Russian “propaganda.” In 2012, Julian Assange was interviewed by John Pilger on RT. Assange denied that the leaked emails came from Russian sources. “The Clinton camp has been able to project a neo-McCarthyist hysteria that Russia is responsible for everything. Hillary Clinton has stated multiple times, falsely, that 17 US intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia was the source of our publications. That’s false – we can say that the Russian government is not the source.”
Trump has been consistently hostile toward the media, claiming that the Washington Post and New York Times are biased against him. During an interview with RT on the Larry King Show, he was asked “What surprised you most about running for office?” to which he replied the media’s “tremendous dishonesty.” Following his controversial RT interview, Obama openly criticised Trump at a Clinton rally in Philadelphia. “When the interviewer asks [Trump], ‘why do you support this guy [Putin]?’ he says, ‘He is a strong guy. Look, he’s got an 82% poll rating.’ Well, yes, Saddam Hussein had a 90% poll rating. If you control the media and you’ve taken away everybody’s civil liberties, and you jail dissidents, that’s what happens.”
Russian media had an unusually high interest in the outcome of the US election. A popular Russian news platform, Rossiya-24, reported from polling stations across the United States on the final polling day. A small icon at the bottom of the screen counted down the time the first polling station would close. Strangely, the network did not count down the result of their own nationwide election two months previous.
Russian media were largely sympathetic toward Trump and they were certainly anti-Clinton. RIA Novosti is a popular news outlet which the Moscow Times described as giving a “mostly objective and balanced coverage of the election.” However, one of their dispatches, which had almost 200,000 views, claimed that Clinton had “problems with her head.”
Following Trump’s shock victory, Putin was certainly pleased. Pro-Putin far-right activists threw a celebratory party in Moscow following the “good news.” Not all Russians were happy, namely Garry Kasparov. The famous Russian chess master and writer of Winter Is Coming, a book criticising Putin, tweeted “Winter Is Here” when Trump announced his victory.
Relations with Ukraine and the Middle East
“In a delicate geopolitical world where politicians walk on eggshells, President-elect Trump has walked with steel heeled boots following his victory”
The two global powers have been at loggerheads since the invasion of Crimea and Russian involvement in Syria. This may change in the next number of weeks. In a delicate geopolitical world where politicians walk on eggshells, President-elect Trump has walked with steel heeled boots following his victory. Though he has given very few details with regard as to how he will “defeat the Islamic State,” Trump said during a rally in September that “any nation who shares in this goal will be our friend in this mission.”
Trump has shown no intention of opposing Russia in Syria, something Obama has done through his presidency. Putin has staked his support on Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Obama was unable to change this. “You’re not fighting Syria anymore, you’re fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right? Russia is a nuclear country.”
Putin’s support for Assad is clearly a far more complex issue than simply Putin asserting his power. The political unrest in the Middle East is coming to a climax: the threat of Al Qaeda and ISIS is as real as ever, while Assad has not yet met the same fate as Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi or Egypt’s Honsi Muabarak (both dead). Though Russia have been fighting the Islamic State, they have also been criticised for air-strikes on groups that are simply opposing Assad. The President of Syria is Russia’s key ally in the Middle East; his fall could prove detrimental to Russia’s global influence.
This is not the first time that Russia has intervened in the Middle East. Thirty years ago, Russia attempted to defeat jihadists in Afghanistan which ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. America’s intervention in the Middle East, where they have had little success, remains a fresh wound and a blow to the idea of American military superiority. Fighting jihadists remains a huge gamble. The world will have to wait and see if Trump’s own gamble of supporting Putin pays off.
A Trump presidency may also have serious implications for Russia’s already unstable relations with Ukraine. These issues stretch back to 1954, when the Supreme Soviet of the USSR decided that Crimea would be transferred to Ukraine. Since 1991 however, when Ukraine declared independence, the annexation of Crimea has been a goal of Russian nationalists.
In 1994, Russia signed several treaties which “guaranteed” the provincial integrity of Ukraine. The Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances agreed that the Ukraine would give up their nuclear stock in exchange for the guarantee that they would be territorially stable and financially secure. It was signed by Russia with the United States as the main guarantor. In February 2014, Putin ordered an attack on Crimea as part of a plan to annex eight regions in Ukraine. He began referring these regions “New Russia” in his speeches. The seizure of Crimea can be called Putin’s most momentous decision to date.
Though the UN will never recognise Crimea as part of Russia, the annexation was certainly consequential. The Minsk Agreement was signed in February 2015 between Russia and Ukraine to cease the ongoing war in Ukraine. The incoming Trump administration certainly has a different view to the Obama regime. In July this year, the President-Elect was asked on whether he will view Crimea as Russian territory. He said “yes” and that he “would be looking into that.”
The US as part of NATO
“[Trump] has said that if the United States are not reimbursed financially for acting as the world’s “policemen” then they will have to renegotiate the North Atlantic Treaty”
Despite the election of Trump, Canada has not changed its position with regard to Crimea. The Canadian Defence Minister Hajit Sajjan said “My main focus is to have these discussions with the new [US] administration moving forward and be able to put our position there – bringing Russia back to a responsible role instead of aggressively taking territory. This is not how responsible nations function.” Canada currently has 200 troops in Ukraine alongside 300 US troops and troops from other NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) nations. If Trump decides to turn his back on Ukraine, he will consequentially undermine the credibility of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances.
NATO was founded on 4 April 1949 with the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, to balance the Soviet Army’s influence in Eastern Europe in the Cold War era. Article 5 of the Treaty outlines that “an armed attack against one or more [signatories] in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” The countries will use “armed force” if necessary to “restore and maintain the security.” The first time Article 5 was invoked was in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks.
Ukraine’s application to join NATO in 2008 provoked a hostile response from Russia. Following the latter’s military action in Crimea, public support for NATO in Ukraine has greatly risen and the current government has made joining the organization a priority. However, comments made by Trump during his campaign that NATO is “obsolete” will have sent shivers through NATO-supporters in Ukraine. Speaking at a town hall in Wisconsin in April, Trump said that “maybe NATO will dissolve and that’s OK.” He has said that if the United States are not reimbursed financially for acting as the world’s “policemen” then they will have to renegotiate the North Atlantic Treaty. This is music to Putin’s ears, as with an increased Russian maritime military, Russia’s power in Europe is building. If America steps back into the shadows as Trump strongly hints they might, the results could be colossal.
Only the future will tell how the Putin-Trump relationship will unfold. During his election campaign, Trump demonstrated a profound lack of understanding of foreign affairs. As Obama said, Trump “has spent years meeting leaders from around the world: Miss Sweden, Miss Argentina, Miss Azerbaijan.” The American people have chosen an unpredictable and flippant man to lead their nation. Putin is a geopolitical gambler and Trump is well accustomed to rolling the dice. The clock is ticking.