Moscow’s ‘Strange Joys’ Over Trump Recall Its Equally Strange Ones About Obama In 2008 – OpEd


Many in Russia and the West forget that the Kremlin welcomed Barack Obama’s election in 2008 in much the same way that it has welcomed the election of Donald Trump this year, as the rejection of Washington’s earlier approach and as an opening of the possibility for new deals between Russia and the US, Vitaly Portnikov says.

In 2008, the Kremlin celebrated the election of Obama as a rejection of the hawkish policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush, and even more of the anti-Russian position of the Republican candidate that year, John McCain. Indeed, at that time, Moscow celebrated Obama’s victory as its own (

Russian commentators then, the Ukrainian commentator points out, were convinced that Obama wanted to resolve all problems connected with Russia that had arisen under his predecessor and they pointed to his ideas about “a reset” in Moscow-Washington relations as evidence of this.

It is certainly true that Obama came to office committed to “cooperation rather than confrontation,” and that “after his election, he spoke about the need for such cooperation and overcoming conflicts in practically the same way that Donald Trump is speaking at the present time.”

It was not the US that “worsened relations with Russia,” Portnikov continues. “It was Russia which worsened relations with the United States. And now in Moscow they are happy that the Obama era won’t continue just as they were happy eight years ago that the era of Bush wouldn’t.”

“This is a very strange joy,” he says. “It is based on the naïve opinion that some new administration can come to power in the US which will not defend the interests of its own country and will decide that the personal interests of Vladimir Putin are much more important than the interests of America.”

Each new US president by nature believes that he or she can do better than the ones that went before. And that is true in foreign policy as well as in domestic matters. But after being inaugurated, the new president finds that things are not quite as simple as he or she may have imagined earlier.

“Today,” Portnikov continues, Moscow is accusing Obama of exactly the same sins it earlier accused George W. Bush. And it is “practically inevitable” that “tomorrow, [Russian outlets] will accuse Trump in exactly the same way they accused Obama yesterday” because to defend American interests, a president must increase the US role in the world.

Trump both because of the nature of his office and the nature of his personality isn’t going to be an exception to this pattern, Portnikov argues. Trump made that clear in numerous statements during the campaign which both Russians and some Americans now appear to have forgotten as well.

And even if he wants good personal relations with Putin – and that may in fact be true – Trump’s policies of promoting oil production in the US and inflicting harm on the Chinese economy are going to work against Russia regardless of what his current supporters in Moscow expect, the Ukrainian analyst says.

And if oil prices fall to 25 to 30 US dollars a barrel, Putin will confront a situation in which the US president will be his opponent whatever the Kremlin leader may imagine. Moreover, Putin will somehow have to try to find a way to reach agreement with his American counterpart who won’t have any good reason for making concessions to him.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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