By Paul Goble
Perhaps the only thing more striking than Donald Trump’s unwillingness to criticize Vladimir Putin regardless of what the Kremlin leader does is Putin’s continuing to make a clear distinction between the US president whom he appears to trust and the United States whom he sees as Russia’s main enemy.
In recent remarks, Svobodnaya pressa journalist Aleksey Verkhoyantsev points out, the Kremlin leader has denounced the US for its role in Ukraine but gone out of his say to stress that he is “not disappointed” in Donald Trump “with whom,” Putin insists, “it is possible to reach agreements and find compromises” (http://svpressa.ru/politic/article/194835/).
“I have no disappointment at all in my partner,” the Russian president continues, “but ever greater disappointment in the system. Here one cannot but be disappointed because it demonstrates is obvious ineffectiveness and is eating itself alive” (cf, report in ria.ru/world/20180307/1515920338.html).
Stanislav Byshok, an analyst at the CIS-EMO Monitoring Organization, tells Verkhoyantsev that “Putin’s words to the effect that everything isn’t so bad and that Trump isn’t hopeless and that relations with the US could improve are no more than a nod to traditions” since the end of Soviet times.
“We understand that meetings of Russian leaders with their American colleagues have been accompanied by hopes for ‘the next reset,’ improvements and relations. In this case,” he continues, “Putin said with a high degree of probability exactly what he would have said if Hillary Clinton had been elected US president.”
According to the analyst, “it is not in the interests of Russia to make confrontational declarations personally against the US president and it would be strange if Putin didn’t understand that.” But in this case, there are also two other factors that must be taken into consideration.
“It is obvious,” Byshok says, “that the promises Trump made about Russia during his campaign were made completely sincerely” and he has much in common with Putin: “They both maintain the image of a strong leader, both are inclined to conservatism, and ideologically they are close to one another.”
But Trump is not in a position to define US relations with Russia on his own. “The institutions of the presidency in the US and in Russia are quite different things, and it would be naïve to expect that as a result of the personal sympathies of Putin and Trump would be defined the relationship of the two countries.”
Not only can Trump not afford to be too forthcoming about Russia given media coverage of the issue of Russian interference in the American elections and the attacks by Democrats and conservatives on Trump for his proffered friendship with Putin lest he be weakened, but the American system has “checks and balances” that prevent anyone from acting unilaterally.
And consequently, “it would be strange to expect that the American president ‘would love Russia’ more than the political mainstream does, whose views he is focused on and on which he depends.” And as Putin has been pointing out since at least 2007, the American consensus is far from friendly to Russia.
As a result, in its dealing with the US, “Russia now acts according to the principle which is ascribed to Al Capone: ‘with the help of a kind word and a pistol you can achieve much more than with a kind word alone.”