Are we headed toward a new détente with Russia? President-elect Donald Trump says he wants to get along with Vladimir Putin, and has made improving US-Russia relations a centerpiece of his foreign policy platform. Putin, meanwhile, responded to Trump's election by announcing that Russia stands ready to restore relations with the United States. On the surface, the time seems ripe for a new era of US-Russian cooperation. But while Putin and Trump’s mutual praise conforms to this narrative, Russia’s recent actions tell another story.
Indeed, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Russia has no imminent plans to end its antagonism of the West. Earlier this week, it was reported that Russian intelligence officers were likely behind a botched coup attempt in Montenegro. As The New York Times reports, last month two Russians plotted to seize Montenegro’s parliament building and kill the prime minister, with the goal of installing a new government hostile to NATO.
This follows a pattern of troublesome and aggressive Russian actions. Two years ago, there was the illegal annexation of Crimea and the invasion of Ukraine. Then came Russia’s military adventurism in Syria, which continues to block US efforts to reach a peace deal. Russia has abrogated its agreement with the United States to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium, and has shipped nuclear missile systems to Kaliningrad, between Poland and the Baltic states. And, lest we forget, Russia executed the most intrusive foreign interference of an American presidential election in history.
How should the United States respond? In the long term, the United States should return to a policy of Kennanite containment—exerting continued economic pressure and building international support for the political isolation of Russia. This will be difficult, however, as European unity is cracking and a pro-Putin politician looks on course to win the French presidency.
In the short to medium term, the United States must work to reenergize the transatlantic alliance. US-Europe ties have been deteriorating in recent years, and have only been made worse by Britain’s exit from the European Union and the stalled negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This has been to the delight of President Putin. The new administration should recommit to the transatlantic partnership—with every diplomatic and economic tool in its toolkit. In particular, resuscitating the transatlantic trade agenda would go a long way in renewing trust in America as a reliable partner. But just as important, as Philip Stephens writes in the Financial Times, Europe’s leaders must build a coherent strategy for maintaining European stability and assume more responsibility for its security.
This week’s reads focus on the challenges posed by Putin’s Russia and show the global political landscape in which these challenges must be dealt.
Julian Borger/The Guardian
Serbia has deported a group of Russians suspected of being involved in coup plot in Montenegro. “The plotters were allegedly going to dress in police uniforms to storm the Montenegrin parliament in Podgorica, shoot the prime minister, Milo Ðjukanović, and install a pro-Moscow party,” reports The Guardian. What makes matters more intriguing is that Russia was believed to be behind the attacks. The headline reminds us of the continued European-Russia rivalry that has heightened in recent years.
François Heisbourg/Financial Times
The leading conservative presidential candidate in France, François Fillon, also is very strongly pro-Putin. If he were to become president, his foreign policy toward Russia would be a large change for the country, one that could be both good and bad. If Trump decides to relax Russian sanctions this could provide an opening for France to either cozy up with Russia or carve out a position as the new leader of an anti-Putin Europe. Neither choice is a clear winner.
William S. Cohen and Gary Hart/The New York Times
William Cohen and Gary Hart recount why leaders of the past—Truman, Marshall, Eisenhower, and Acheson—created the international institutions that have benefited America and supported liberal democracy and freedom around the globe. Our next president has threatened to withdraw from agreements such as NATO and NAFTA that have promoted peace and prosperity for the last 70 years. The international system may need renovation, but the authors implore Mr. Trump to not tear the whole system down.
Stephen Sestanovich/The New York Times
There are two Putins: one is confident and effective and the other is isolated and unsure of himself. The one we most often see is the one who takes part in military adventurism abroad, but the other rests atop a failing domestic economy. Both think Russia deserves more respect. For Mr. Trump to be successful in containing Russia, he may provide that respect, but he also must make clear the unbreakable strength of America. It would be wise for him to take a page from President Obama’s and Secretary Clinton’s Russia playbook and not give Russia “anything for nothing.”
Philip Stephens/Financial Times
“American altruism has always been a myth,” writes Philip Stephens. The strong alliance between the United States and Europe has always been to the selfish benefit of the United States, he says. Military-wise, NATO was an alliance to contain an aggressive Russia. Economically, Europe is the largest market for US goods and a strong EU benefits the US economy. Europe, even if imperfect, is still the best set of allies in the world for the United States. When assuming the presidency, Mr. Trump should recognize these truths before he irresponsibly breaks this alliance.
Jim Hoagland/The Washington Post
We are entering a strange new world in which America is no longer promoting liberal internationalism, writes Jim Hoagland. The election of Donald Trump has accelerated the United States’ retreat from the world stage. America’s foes, such as China, have taken pleasure in this as it sees an opportunity to fill a leadership vacuum. America’s allies are less enthusiastic. According to Hoagland, the only thing US allies dislike more than too much US interference in their affairs is too little. Conflicting feelings over the outcome of the election around the world is mirrored by the uncertainty around a Trump presidency and the disunity felt in the United States.
Jane Perlez/The New York Times
During a recent interview, Mr. Trump said Obama spoke to him about a “big problem for the country.” Many national security experts believe that is a reference to North Korea. North Korea has become increasingly more aggressive in testing nuclear weapons and less cooperative with traditional allies like China. Throughout the campaign, Mr. Trump has focused on the issue of trade with respect to China. There is reason to believe, however, negotiating with China to containing North Korea will take precedent. Both the United States and China have motivations to find common ground and depress the nuclear threat.
Alan Beattie/Financial Times
Most public understanding about trade and globalization is trapped inside economic models from the 20th and 19th centuries, writes Alan Beattie. A new way forward for globalization, put forth by Richard Baldwin, reimagines the global supply chain. Developed and developing economics can find themselves in a “great convergence” if each re-specializes in creating the parts of final goods that they are best at creating. For example, Vietnam joined Honda’s supply chain by manufacturing motorcycle parts for the South Korean company. Baldwin’s theory is that we can only preserve globalization by rethinking what it can mean.
Alan Beattie/Financial Times
Many pundits in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership warned that the death of the trade deal would bring diminished US leadership for the whole of South East Asia. Although the end of TPP was a missed opportunity, it was not a catastrophe, writes Alan Beattie. Liberalized markets and increased trade with the United States has happened in Asia even without explicit trade deals. The Beijing model for trade is still not as attractive as the Western democratic model, he writes, and trade agreements are the consequence, not the cause, of geopolitical influence.
Edward Luce/Financial Times
The same country that elected Donald Trump already misses President Obama, as his approval ratings rise. Yet his presidency will be viewed by history as a slight detour away from the American decline that began after 9/11. Ed Luce says it was Obama’s failing to recognize that reason does not govern how people act. The American-led liberal democratic world that Obama knows is now over, and a new era of competing power-politics has begun. In the short term, the drama will be about Trump and Putin. But the long term trend is toward China. Europe is the loser, American prestige, writes Luce.