Fyodor Lukyanov: Does Russia want Donald Trump to win?

Aprilia Rine

Fyodor Lukyanov: Does Russia want Donald Trump to win?

A second term for the Republican would herald the beginning of a real change in the international positioning of the US

Both presumed candidates in this year’s US presidential election have obvious vulnerabilities and are registering unfavorable ratings. In the case of Joe Biden, the reason behind the main criticism is clear – increasingly obvious senility and cognitive weakness. Meanwhile, Donald Trump will be attacked conceptually – as a threat to democracy and to America’s national interests.

As was the case eight years ago, one of the recurring arguments is that Trump admires dictators, dreams of one-man rule and despises American allies, which is why he wants to revise the entire foreign policy strategy. The traditional theme of Russian interference on Trump’s side has not yet emerged, but is likely to do so in one form or another. In any case, the argument that his arrival back in the White House would be a victory for the Kremlin is commonplace. We don’t necessarily share that view, but there is an expectation that a possible second Trump presidency will improve Russia’s position.

A similar assumption was made in 2016-2017, on the eve of and immediately after his first appearance in the White House. Nevertheless, it can be said that relations deteriorated sharply; by the way, Trump himself didn’t tire of repeating that no one was tougher with Moscow than he was. In terms of the number of sanctions and restrictions, this period even set a record, although now, with Biden in the hot-seat, it was of course only a dry run for the real bacchanalia.

So, what can we expect from Trump if he is successful in November? In terms of practical approaches and life experience, the reality is that Trump is a businessman and an entrepreneur. Indeed, an individual entrepreneur at that.

He has run a family business all his life, where he makes all the decisions and expects his employees to obey him unconditionally. At the center of his universe has been only himself. But now he’s made room for America too, which he must make great in order to go down in history as the greatest of all presidents. Other states, including Russia, are of little interest to Trump. In his mind, they are just tools to help achieve his main goal.

The businesslike mentality of the former president is a valuable quality. No matter how tough a professional businessman may be, his job is not to destroy but to multiply, otherwise the business itself loses its meaning. Trump was the first US president in a long time (probably since Jimmy Carter) not to launch a single new military campaign. His gritty foreign policy rhetoric, with its blistering attacks on his adversaries, is always accompanied by careful backtracking. He is cautious and reluctant to intervene in situations fraught with incomprehensible complications.

The effectiveness of such tactics in the international arena is generally questionable. But where Trump sees a primary interest, it works, as demonstrated in relations with China and European NATO members. In both cases, the issue was money – the terms of access to the US market and the amounts paid for defense. Trump has managed to move on both fronts.

Complex issues with a strategic component and geopolitical calculations cannot be resolved at the financial level alone, as Trump has also made clear with his approach to North Korea and, to some extent, Russia. But, contrary to his image, he is cautious on these issues, guided by the principle of “do no harm.”

The isolationism of which Trump is accused is expressed in his indifference to what happens in other countries, however they are organized. It calls into question the entire political-ideological construct of modern America, which is based on the expansion of values in order to bring other states into line with the US-led order. This approach has its roots far back in the history of the “Sermon on the Mount.” But never before has it become an unquestioned imperative, backed by the full power of the United States, as it has in the global age. Trump’s attempts to challenge this axiom are the main reason for the fierce attacks on his foreign-policy instincts.

Those who believe that Moscow favors Trump are not entirely wrong, but the reason is not because the challenger has a pro-Russian bias. Because he doesn’t.

If the likely Republican candidate ultimately wins there are two possible scenarios. The first is a desperate fight in Washington, where a lot of energy will be spent on inter- and intra-party struggles. This is to Russia’s advantage, because the enemy’s attention will be diverted. The second is that Trump’s reappearance, despite all the extremely unfavorable circumstances, means the beginning of a real change in America’s international positioning – towards a narrower agenda and a more pragmatic choice of priorities, opening up new opportunities for the rest of the world.

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