Though the scheduled Putin-Trump meeting in Buenos Aires (on the margins of the G20 Summit in end-November) was called off after the Kerch Strait incident (Review, 11/18), Russia continued to express the hope that high-level bilateral engagement would recommence. While the US State Department and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs traded critical comments, the two leaders did not. President Putin continued to be uniformly complimentary about President Trump. In his media conference in Buenos Aires (December 1), he described the US President as “a man of character and … a very experienced person, an adult” – an assessment not usually seen in the American political and media discourse. When an American correspondent drew his attenion (December 15) to President Trump’s assertion that the US had defeated ISIS (thus negating Russia’s contribution), he did not demur, responding merely that ISIS had indeed been defeated.
President Putin did convey in his public utterances that without high-level engagement with Russia, major international issues – INF Treaty, START-3, Syria, Afghanistan and North Korea – cannot be resolved.
In a somewhat under-reported move, the U.S. Treasury notified the US Congress (December 19) of its decision to terminate sanctions on Russian aluminium multinational Rusal and associated companies. The imposition of sanctions on Rusal in April 2018 (Review, 4/18) had caused disruptions in the international aluminium market, severely affecting (besides Russian commercial interests) American consumers and businesses from the US to Ireland and Australia. With the intervention of major European countries, a way was found to reduce the stake and dilute control in these companies of the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (who was the principal target of the sanctions), enabling the Treasury Department to confirm that the objective of the sanctions had been achieved. As pointed out earlier (Review, 4/18), the Rusal sanctions showed the US a way to really hurt Russia with sanctions, but also revealed that such sanctions could also cause unacceptable collateral pain to their imposers.
In another low-key action, the US State Department travel advisory for American tourists “upgraded” Russia from “reconsider travel” (which was advice introduced in January 2018) to “exercise increased caution”, just one step below the most relaxed category of “exercise normal precautions”.
December 30, 2018