The US President-elect Donald Trump has caused quite a stir in his attempts to mend relations between the United States and Russia. Over the course of President Obama’s administration, the two countries were at odds with each other on many global issues. The stance taken by both in relation to the war in Syria is the most glaring example of the difference in opinion each country has on the issue. For some, the recent increase in tension between the two global powers has reignited memories of the Cold War era.
Mr Trump however, has sought to put aside past differences and has attempted to cooperate as much as possible with Russia. Some have claimed that this is because he sought funding from Russian investors in the past, when no American banks would lend to him as a multiple bankrupt. In fact, over the years Donald Trump has been involved in a number of business dealings in Russia. One such example was the hosting of the Miss Universe competition in Moscow. Comparatively, his failed ventures in Russia include “Trump Tower Moscow” and “Trump Vodka”. Furthermore, a Trump business venture named “Trump Soho” was accused of being under the control of a company named Bayrock in a recent lawsuit. Bayrock was said to be supported by Russian criminal interests. It is questionable what the future President Trump is doing going into business with such people. Finally, and more recently, a former MI6 officer has produced a report indicating that the Kremlin has a large amount of compromising material on the President-elect. If this is found to be true, then Mr Trump could be found in a very difficult position during the early days of his presidency.
Despite the turbulent past relations between the two countries, few would have foreseen that during the election campaign Mr Trump would encourage Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. It is well-known that a presidential candidate and politician will do almost anything to one-up their opponent. Many would agree, however, that this crossed the line. Such an action is obviously worrying from a US intelligence point of view. What is more, there is evidence of Mr Trump encouraging cyber attacks against his own country, which, interestingly enough, he has called for a crackdown on. This is hardly a positive sign going forward.
Many of the incoming President’s campaign advisors also have, or previously had, ties with Russia. For example, Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort was a former long-term consultant for Viktor Yanukovich (the Russian-backed President of Ukraine ousted in 2014 by his own people). Mr Trump has also chosen retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor. Flynn is known for regarding Russia as a potential partner that the US can work with on the global stage and also for attending a state-run evening hosted by Putin’s propagandist machine Russia Today. Meanwhile, Trump’s nomination for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin himself in 2013.
It is hardly surprising then that Russia is now acting very friendly towards Donald Trump. Numerous stories have emerged claiming that Moscow was involved in the US election and helped facilitate Trump’s victory. While such a notion might console the Democrats and their voters, it cannot change what has already happened. What’s more, Trump himself has changed his stance on the alleged election hacking. After being voted in, Trump staunchly denied Russia had any part in him becoming President. Now, however, he is refusing to dispel the rumours following a briefing by intelligence agencies on the matter.
The question remains, is the possibility of closer ties between Russia and the US a negative? After all, a closer relationship between (arguably) two of the world’s most powerful states should be something to rejoice at. Mr Trump’s connection to President Putin might lead to significant changes on a global scale. If the two countries and their leaders work together then many possibilities arise. This should not be a case of if Trump scratches Putin’s back, Putin will scratch Trump’s back. Instead, it should be a case of the two global powers finally being able to reach a diplomatic understanding on significant global issues. Much of Moscow’s opposition to the Obama administration stemmed from Washington’s stance on subjects such as the Russian-backed war in Ukraine and the bolstering of the Assad regime in Syria. Problems such as these might be easy to categorise as ‘solvable’ with the introduction of a new leader and government. But the reality is they are unlikely to be. Nonetheless, one can only hope that Mr Trump’s increasing affection for Russia turns out to have a positive impact after all.