Trump Claims he Wants Closer Ties with Russia

Here are 3 reasons that won’t fly.


On Tuesday, President Trump sent a round of startling tweets, apparently in an effort to justify his unprecedented decision to share highly sensitive intelligence with the Russian foreign minister as a move to secure Russia’s cooperation in the fight against the Islamic State and terrorism. It’s unclear whether this signals a rapprochement between the two countries — but here’s the bigger question: Could an anti-terrorism alliance lead to a U.S.-Russian detente?


Establishing close relations with Russia was one of the defining foreign policy goals of Trump’s campaign. But since the start of his presidency, his pledge to partner with Russia on issues such as fighting terrorism has been mired in the escalating “Russiagate” scandal and the drift in U.S.-Russia relations in Syria and elsewhere — culminating with U.S. retaliatory airstrikes after the Syrian government’s chemical attack in April.


Even without the “Russiagate” scandal, from a purely analytical standpoint there are three major obstacles to such a reconciliation between the United States and Russia.


1) Russia’s strategic interests diverge from those of the United States in key areas.


In Syria, the top U.S. priority is to fight the Islamic State. But Russia’s core interest is to preserve a regime that cannot unify the country or enforce a stable order throughout its territory. Moreover, analysis of Russian military action in the region concludes that Russian assistance in Syria would add little to U.S. efforts to stabilize the country. A recent Atlantic Council report, for instance, concludes that Russia’s only military advantage over its Western counterparts in Syria and elsewhere is that it can bomb civilians with impunity. These bombings stir further grievances across the Muslim world and compound Europe’s migrant problem.


In counterterrorism circles, there is growing evidence that the Kremlin may be more interested in preserving radical groups such as the Islamic State in the Middle East than in destroying them. Here’s why: As long as the Islamic State threat exists, Russia and its ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, can justify and leverage their presence on the ground in Syria. At home, President Vladimir Putin has explicitly defended the Syria intervention as part of Russia’s domestic counterterrorism effort, asserting that Russia must fight extremists in Syria to avoid fighting them at home.


This is not a convenient excuse but an extension of the Kremlin’s “push-out-and-shut-the-door” counterterrorism strategy. This strategy envisions emptying Russia of potential terrorists by encouraging them to leave and fight in places like Syria, where they might be easier to kill, contain or turn into someone else’s problem.


2) The concessions Trump would have to make to secure a U.S.-Russia partnership are costly.


European and U.S. security officials and diplomats, along with Russian security experts, tend to agree that Putin’s main goal is the acceptance of a Russian “sphere of influence” in the former Soviet Union. He is also likely to publicly demand that Western sanctions be lifted. From a realpolitik point of view, accepting such demands could lead to more, not less, conflict.


Above all, such concessions may stimulate Moscow to aggressively enforce its sphere of influence by crushing resistance in countries such as Ukraine — and create additional “gray zones” of conflict as wedges against future Western influence. They could also undermine U.S. alliances, possibly prompting the most exposed European nations to seek alternative deterrents against Russian aggression.


Over the long run, these moves could tempt countries like Poland to seek nuclear weapons capabilities, as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of Poland’s ruling party, has hinted. And a final point — if the United States accepts Russia’s forceful establishment of a sphere of influence, hawkish officials in Beijing, Tehran or elsewhere might ask themselves: Why shouldn’t China, Iran or other powers try to get away with similar strategic maneuvers?


3) Putin sustains his high popularity at home by posing as a strongman, defending Russia against Western encroachment — and closer U.S.-Russian ties would take that away.


Follow the link to see the source article published by The Washington Post May 16, 2017.



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