The outgoing Obama Administration whipped up an anti-Russia fervour in USA by declaring new sanctions against Russia on December 30 and then ordering the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from USA. This was a response to the alleged Russian interference in the US Presidential elections through hacking and other means. A Congressional hearing was hastily arranged, in which Administration officials claimed to have incontrovertible evidence of Russian culpability (and that of President Putin personally) in the hacking. The US Congress then heard that Russian news agencies – Sputnik and RT – were manipulating the opinions of the American public by their distorted news; there were calls for their banning. Then came the “leaks” that Russia had compiled damaging personal information to potentially blackmail Mr Trump. The CIA denied leaking them; the Russians said they suspected the British MI6.
Russia declined to take counter-measures, with President Putin saying they would consider their response after the new US President assumes office. Meanwhile, the Trump transition team accused the Obama Administration of trying to restrict the new President’s room for manoeuvre vis a vis Russia.
The anti-Russian diatribe continued after the inauguration, but eventually, it appeared that Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, who had become the main target of anti-Russian hawks, would get confirmed by the Senate. President Trump has not receded from his position that the US needs to reset relations with Russia.
The Kremlin press note on the telephone conversation of Presidents Putin and Trump on January 28 indicated a substantive discussion, rather than a mere courtesy call. It was said that they agreed to jointly work to “stabilise and develop Russia-US cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis”. They reportedly had a detailed discussion on the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic stability, non-proliferation, the situation with Iran’s nuclear programme, the Korean Peninsula issue and the Ukrainian crisis. They agreed that fighting international terrorism was the top priority and that the two countries could coordinate actions to defeat ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. Finally, they are reported to have agreed to meet, though a date and venue were not specified.
It is not clear how fast President Trump will be allowed to move in these directions, given the continued opposition from virtually the entire defence and intelligence establishment.
January 31, 2017