In December 2016, the Dahrendorf Forum convened the Russia-Ukraine and North America Working Groups to discuss the future of the liberal order in the wake of Trump and Brexit. Here, participants share their outlook on the future of US-Russia relations and what the EU can do about it.
EU’s Ability to Adopt a Comprehensive Strategy on Russia is Key to Its Influence on US-Russia Relations
There are at least three reasons why the Russian leadership should be hopeful about the Trump Presidency and three reasons why it should be concerned about it. Speaking of the positive side, one should note that the election of President Trump fits perfectly into the overall picture that currently dominates the political thinking in the Kremlin. It is yet another link in a long chain of recent events – including the implosion of the Middle East, the rise of the right in Europe, Brexit, and others – indicating to Vladimir Putin that he is fundamentally correct about global trends, and that Barack Obama and Angela Merkel are fundamentally wrong. Second, Republicans have traditionally been easier partners for Moscow than Democrats (though one can question the assumption that Donald Trump is a true Republican). Third, there is an ABC (Anyone But Clinton) syndrome in the Kremlin; the former State Secretary is well known for her hawkish position on many Middle East conflicts, her uncompromising support for human rights in Russia, and her explicitly anti-Putin views, in a very personal way, during the presidential campaign.
On the negative side, one should mention that, being a newcomer to global politics, Donald Trump is more likely than Hillary Clinton to make mistakes that could create new risks and challenges for the whole world, including Russia. On top of that, one cannot fully exclude a clash of egos between Trump and Putin (the Erdogan case serves as an illustration). Second, the current political and expert vacuum around Trump may be filled with neo-cons and other groups hostile to Russia. Finally, if US foreign policy under Trump deviates from the support of the ‘global commons’ (free trade and a liberal global finance system, climate change, non-proliferation, regional crisis management) as a top American priority, Russia – like all other emerging economies – is likely to be one of the victims of such a change.
The impact of the European Union on the future of the US–Russian relations will depend primarily on two factors. First, on the ability/inability of Brussels to significantly enhance the current EU foreign policy capacity after the chain of 2017 elections in major EU member states (i.e. on whether the declaratory EU Global strategy can be converted into a specific and institutionalized Road Map). Second, on the ability/inability of the EU to come up with a balanced and comprehensive mid-term strategy toward Russia, beyond sanctions and the Mogherini “five principles”. If the EU fails on both, its impact on the US–Russian relations will be marginal at best – as will its impact on the international system at large. If it succeeds, its stable and principled stance vis-à-vis Moscow can become an important factor mitigating the likely ups and downs in a highly personalized relationship between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.