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Obama, expulsion of Russian diplomats and Trump’s unpredictability·

Friendly relations with Russia are important, but they cannot be confined to division of spheres of influence based on purely power relationships. If Russia sincerely wishes to be a friend (and not a boss) of Europe, new, shared legal and institutional instruments will need to be adopted, partaken by all those involved. Europe should take a step in this direction.

Is there a new Cold War on the horizon? We all hope that 2017 will not usher in a heated war, but future developments of US-Russia relations are hard to envision, considering the true nature of Putin and of Donald Trump, the latter due to take the Oath of Office at the helm of the White House before the end of the month. A few days ago Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats on charges of affiliation to the Kremlin’s secret services, accused of having interfered in the US presidential elections by attempting to support Trump and of casting a dark shadow on Mrs. Clinton. Looking back at the history of international relations, including that of the United States, it’s hard not to think: “he who is without sin should cast the first stone.” However, the charges are serious and comprehensibly US Senate and House leaders called for a Commission to investigate the allegations. If Russian interference turns out to be grounded on concrete evidence, a not-so-far-fetched scenario, Trump would be receiving an unpleasant piece of news. A high number of Republican congressmen, constituting Trump’s majority, are hostile to Russia, and they might not appreciate such an outcome. But weakening their President in the absence of an alternative leader; and when the next election will renew a number of parliamentary seats but not Trump’s office, it could result in a remarkably unwise decision. Obama has thus managed to bring some headaches to Trump, but he failed to strengthen the position of his Country. Indeed, Putin responded under the guise of a wise, temperate statesman, passing the message that he is superior to such faux pas. The true gist of the matter is the near future. Trump announced his intention to establish peaceful, cooperative relations with Russia. In theory, this could be good news for the whole world. But in practice, it is a question of knowing the terms of the desired peaceful relations between the two super-powers. Putin has shown that he is ready to make use of force to defend Russia’s strategic interests. We have seen it in Ukraine and in Syria. Trump could accept, without too much regret, to leave a sphere of influence on Eastern Europe and the Middle East in Russian hands. Such a move wouldn’t necessarily be detrimental to the United States, although the US might lose some of its prestige. It’s harder to understand how such a strategy could be considered compatible with Trump’s vigorous defence of Israeli interests announced a few days ago. Putin’s positioning in the Middle East entails an outstanding role for Iran: Israel’s sworn enemy. If Trump intends to secure the support of US Jewish lobbies it will be hard to support Putin’s plans in the Middle East and backpedal on that region. Conversely, if he complies with his vows of friendship to Moscow, he will have to struggle to explain his foreign policy to Netanyahu. The situation is equally complex and delicate on the European front. In essence, good relations with Moscow imply the recognition of Russian sphere of influence on Eastern Europe, eliminating the sanctions imposed as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, accepting the annexation of Crimea, dismantling at least a part of NATO missile deployment in the Baltic republics. Achieving cooperation with Moscow on Europe is fundamental for Europe, but we would like to know more about Russia’s perception of its own vital interests in Europe. In fact, this point is not clear. In this regard Putin’s unpredictability, coupled by Trump’s unpredictability, plays a major role. Russia has a historical inclination to be “closely interested” to the developments in Eastern Europe and in the Baltic region. NATO undoubtedly committed some mistakes in the relations with Russia, but what would happen if Putin planned an interference that Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are unwilling to accept? In that case, who would be Trump’s friends? And with whom would we, European citizens, be friends? Friendly relations with Russia are important, but they cannot be confined to division of spheres of influence based on purely power relationships. If Russia sincerely wishes to be a friend (and not a boss) of Europe, new, shared legal and institutional instruments will need to be adopted, partaken by all those involved. Europe should take a step in this direction.

 

 

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