R.Politik’s founder, Tatiana Stanovaya, is regularly quoted by major Russian and international media outlets. She is available for commentary in Russian and English.

Commentary for The Independent

‘Legendary’ GRU military intelligence agency should have historical name restored, says Putin

“This was a psychological and political show of support by Putin,” says Tatiana Stanovaya, CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “He was telling them that he would support them to the end regardless of the failures and their poor fortunes.”

For Mr Putin, those failures are secondary to a much larger struggle with the West, says Ms Stanovaya.

“He believes the GRU are the victims of this story and has made it very clear that you shouldn’t expect any radical changes in the service,” she says. “Even personnel changes, which may yet happen, will not take place immediately.”

“It’s clear Putin has given the order for the leaks to stop,” says Ms Stanovaya. “That’s where he sees the vulnerability. Far from dismantling the GRU, he wants them to end up stronger.”

READ MORE

From information war to intelligence agency battles

Commentary for European Council on foreign relations

The unmasking of GRU agents will intensify inter-agency battles between Russian intelligence services, and may stoke yet more conflict with foreign states

Western and independent journalists’ exposing of Russian agents present in Salisbury was a shock for the Russian government, even in a period of renewed international scrutiny of its intelligence services. The biggest lapse on the part of Russia’s services since the end of the cold war will change how the Kremlin organises them. The key question now is how it will: set about improving the effectiveness of the military intelligence service – the “GRU”; protect its serving operatives; and avert future failures. Speculation about the government disbanding the GRU, meting out severe punishment, or sacking its top brass is misguided: instead, it is likely to take steps to actually strengthen military intelligence.

In the first instance, some personnel changes are indeed likely. Rumours have raced around Telegram that GRU chief Igor Korobov may be replaced, potentially by his first deputy Igor Kostukov. But, whatever happens, the GRU itself will still benefit from Vladimir Putin’s firm support.  (Incidentally, the GRU no longer exists as such, although Western media remain prone to use the term.)

More importantly, the GRU’s troubles have provoked new struggles within and between the Russian intelligence agencies. Each is seeking to gain advantage from the situation and to ensure the blame falls on other services. The SVR – the Foreign Intelligence Service – has pointed to the lack of professionalism at the GRU and sought to regain responsibility for political intelligence. KGB successor, the FSB, meanwhile, may revisit its old dream of merging the SVR into itself. Indeed, some Western media have suggested thatt an SVR agent could have leaked the details of the Salisbury operation to Britain. The FSB may use this to reinforce its own version of this story: that the unmasking of Russian agents represents betrayal of one service by another. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper recently published leaked information claiming to show that SVR chief Sergey Naryshkin’s family possess Hungarian residence permits and property there. This instantly weakened Naryshkin’s position, giving reason to suspect that the GRU’s desire for revenge lay behind the disclosure. Even if untrue, the situation is surely highly fraught.

The Russian government will not now become more cautious or oblige the intelligence services to be less indiscriminate in their activity

The Kremlin considered merging the SVR and the FSB in 2016, but put the idea aside once Putin appointed Naryshkin – then speaker of the Duma – as head of the SVR. It resurfaced, however, at the beginning of 2018, when the expectation began to grow again that deep structural changes to Russia’s state apparatus were imminent. The FSB tried once more to advance its idea of enlarging itself by swallowing up others. The eventual lack of change is likely due to former Presidential Administration chief Sergey Ivanov, who is still a key figure in Putin’s inner circle. In any case, the trials and tribulations of other services have given the FSB new arguments in the furtherance of its own interest.

In Putin’s eyes the chemical attack on Sergei Skripal is an example of “the fuss between security services” which “did not start yesterday”, as he said during a controversial and emotional speech at Russian Energy Forum. But The Economist has shared the Western security services view over the case, namely that Salisbury was “a step too far”. “Russia has broken an unwritten rule of the spying game by using intelligence for offensive purposes”, the newspaper quotes Sergei Boeke of the Institute of Security and Global Affairs as saying.

The Kremlin thinks differently: it is the West that has been breaking the rules by its overreaction to what was a routine operation, even if the operation happened to get out of control. A principal claim levelled against Russia is that it is not only engaged in spying but is also out to weaken Western democracy and political legitimacy – in contrast to how American, French, or even Chinese secret services behave. But to the Kremlin the world looks completely different: Putin believes that after the collapse of the USSR the United States continued to try to undermine Russia, and indeed redoubled its efforts in this direction after his regime emerged. Western actions led to conflict in the post-Soviet space, including in Georgia and in the Ukraine crisis. The Kremlin also strongly believes that Washington directs all other Western countries in its anti-Russian efforts, laying the ground to destroy Putin’s regime and the country itself. The Russian president has, on countless occasions, accused the West of attempting to interfere with Russia’s political system and elections in general through building a network of Western influence inside Russia. Oligarchs, pro-Western opposition, and NGOs form key links in this network.

As a result, whatever the misdeeds or mishaps of the GRU, Moscow views the post-Salisbury fallout as something the West has whipped up as part of its ongoing war against Russia. State media share messages which give an indicate of the Kremlin’s thinking in this direction, referring to “Western hysterics”.

So what will this mean for Russia’s intelligence agencies and their activities both at home and overseas? For one thing, the result will not be a Russian government that becomes more cautious or obliges the intelligence services to be less indiscriminate in their actions. Nor indeed will the services dial down their cyber-espionage or information warfare; the ‘à la guerre comme à la guerre’ approach to the West remains intact.

Instead, the government may adapt the tools it already has in order to deal with the challenge it believes it faces. The firm bond between political civil authorities and secret services is one such tool, and this relationship will now only strengthen, not weaken. The Security Council in turn will play a key role in this hardening: the conservative and anti-Western secret services influence on the council will make itself felt through the council’s role in both day-to-day and strategic political decision-making. Services’ desire to retaliate see them carry out some unmasking of their own, potentially of Western agents working in Russia, with a view to reminding the world that imperfections exist among services of all countries.

Russia may also now try to play the ongoing information wars more openly, establishing media more clearly directly linked to Russia itself, including new internet outlets and information agencies. It may also seek to work more intensively with social and political forces opposed to traditional elites and lacking faith in political institutions. The Kremlin will become less reticent about involving itself in information battles and using freedom of speech – a key achievement of democracy – as way in which to carry out “hybrid” intrusion.

Unfortunately, the information warfare already playing out across the globe now has a rocket-booster under it: confrontation between Russian secret services. For Russia it is counter-offensive time, no matter who broke the rules first.

Commentary for Reuters

Espionage scandals show Russian army’s growing clout

Asked on Monday if there would be a shake-up at the defense ministry, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the low quality of the allegations leveled at GRU did not justify such changes.

“Russia believes there’s no point in reducing the GRU’s activities because that would be a unilateral concession that would not yield anything and probably be seen as a sign of weakness,” said Tatyana Stanovaya, who is well connected to the political elite and runs political analysis firm R.Politik.

“I think that malicious operations could even be conducted more often than in the past,” she said.

The Kremlin is dismayed by fraying informal communications channels between Western and Russian intelligence agencies, she said, and sees the espionage world as a realm without rules.

“The army’s influence will rise,” said R.Politik’s Stanovaya. “Putin believes Russia is in a state of war.”

READ MORE

Commentary for L’Opinion

Elections de mi-mandat: personne ne doute aux Etats-Unis de nouvelles interférences russes

Ayant « goûté » à la puissance qu’apporte la cybernétique, la Russie n’entend pas y renoncer, selon la politologue Tatyana Stanovaya

Selon la politologue russe Tatiana Stanovaya, créatrice du site R.Politik, la question de savoir si Vladimir Poutine devait s’engager auprès de Donald Trump de ne pas influencer le scrutin à venir s’est posée au Kremlin avant le sommet d’Helsinki. Elle a été vite tranchée, raconte-t-elle, dès lors que l’entourage du Président s’est entendu sur le fait que, dans le très fort sentiment anti-russe ambiant à l’Ouest, Moscou serait de toutes les façons pointé du doigt qu’il interfère ou non lors de ces élections.

Si elle se garde bien d’évaluer la réalité et l’ampleur que pourraient prendre d’éventuelles interventions russes lors des « midterm », Tatiana Stanovaya explique qu’après avoir « goûté à la puissance du pouvoir cybernétique, la Russie n’entend pas en tout cas y renoncer ». Elle a d’autant moins « l’intention d’abandonner le champ de bataille volontairement » que d’autres pays dans le monde ont commencé à investir le monde cybernétique et que le régime de Poutine craint de se trouver un jour à son tour l’objet de cyberattaques. « On a eu tort de prendre à la légère l’offre que Poutine a faite à Trump de créer un groupe de travail sur la cybersécurité », estime d’ailleurs la politologue.

READ MORE

Commentary for The Independant

The west has declared war on the GRU – but don’t expect Russia to tame its spies

For long periods of Mr Putin’s rule, the GRU was almost absent from the big intelligence table, with no obvious role in a shrinking empire. But its fortunes turned in 2008, after the war in Georgia, when the army realised it needed better intelligence for delicate operations. Another turning point came four years later, with the appointment of Valery Gerasimov as chief of the General Staff.

“Their horizon widened, and with supply came demand,” says Tatyana Stanovaya, CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik. “They settled into this new role just as Putin began to reject his own idea that Russia needed to be friends with the west.”

According to Ms Stanovaya, inter-agency conflicts have certainly grown since the Skripal scandal. Many officers have complained that the GRU had not been professional enough and were putting their president on the line. At the same time, she notes, systemic loyalty to the president guards against any major excesses, including leaks and hostile briefing. The first rule in Russia’s secret world is allegiance to Putin.

“For Putin, these guys are still heroes, living modestly, and risking their own lives to protect the motherland,” says Ms Stanovaya. “How can he criticise them? No, he’ll give them more muscle. Any step back would be seen as a recognition of defeat.”

READ MORE

Commentary for The Independant

‘They committed political suicide today’ – Kremlin problems grow as Russian pension reform passes second reading

The Kremlin understood it would take a hit, said Tatyana Stanovaya, founder and CEO of the political analysis firm R.Politik, but it might have overestimated its reserves. And its tactics have contributed to a sense of the president being detached from his people.

“There is still a huge problem of dialogue,” she told The Independent. “People are expressing anger at three things. First, they see international politics being handled with far greater urgency than internal economic problems. Second, they don’t see any positive agenda, only warnings that if you don’t support them, things will get worse. And third, they recoil at the language of ultimatum, the absence of discussion.”

According to Ms Stanovaya, the Kremlin plans to manage the growing public discontent by renewing the regional elite with new faces. By evening, the president had already moved to replace two governors. But this “corporate” approach did nothing to solve the fundamental problems of “distrust in the system and in a president who has lost his magic wand”.

Sooner or later, the Kremlin will be left with a choice, she said.

“They can either turn the screws further and risk creating a pressure-cooker environment. Or they can introduce moderate liberalisation, and risk things getting out of control.”

READ MORE

Quotation in The Financial Times

Putin’s party suffers regional poll defeats over pension anger

United Russia loses governorships as retirement reform anger festers

The defeats announced on Monday come amid nationwide anger at government plans to raise the retirement age by five years, triggering protests across dozens of big cities and sending Mr Putin’s personal popularity sliding to a low not seen for more than a decade.

“On the morning of September 24, the authorities suddenly realised that there are people in this country,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, chief executive of R. Politik, a Russia-focused political consultancy.

READ MORE

Commentary for Carnegie Moscow Center

Russia’s Youtube Duel: Zolotov vs. Navalny

Viktor Zolotov’s video message to Alexei Navalny—a crude and highly personal address for an influential national security official—underscores the increasing incoherence of the authorities’ strategy for dealing with Navalny. More important, it points to the emergence of a state of “every man for himself” and the splintering of Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.

Viktor Zolotov, commander in chief of the National Guard, recently released a video message challenging opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has accused Zolotov of corruption, to a duel. Zolotov, one of the most formidable and secretive representatives of the security services and a former bodyguard of President Vladimir Putin, is viewed as close to the president. The very idea of such a video message, as well as its substance and style, runs counter to standard protocol in a political system where conflicts are usually resolved in a very different way.

READ MORE

The First World Cyberwar

by Tatiana Stanovaya for Riddle

Will Russia meddle in the 2018 US midterms? And if so, how? Such questions get asked often on American news media channels. In an interview with MSNBC, US Congressman Adam Schiff said he expects Russia may follow the same ‘vector’ as during the 2016 US presidential election. Facebook, all the while, has been taking urgent steps to prevent that outcome. Recently the social media giant claimed it had foiled a plot to disrupt the midterms. But the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg warned that the company’s information was still ‘not complete.’

With all the fabled talk since 2016 of notorious Russian hacker groups or St Petersburg troll factories, any influence campaign on a similar theme would not carry an element of surprise. An NPR poll shows more than half of Americans consider it likely that Russia will interfere. And even Donald Trump, who is vitally interested in proving that Russia made no interference in the 2016 elections (i.e. did not help him to win), after meeting Putin in Helsinki in July accused Russia of intentions to help the Democrats in the midterm elections.

Then again, the focus of Russia’s involvement might bring surprises. The New York Times quoted intelligence sources claiming that Russia intends to shift its cyberwar focus. Less political influence campaigns, more threats to America’s power grid.

The motives and nature of Russian meddling, however, often get over simplified in the West. It is viewed as a basic top-down issue: Will Vladimir Putin give the command to influence the American elections again? What are the new technologies and tactics and how can they be thwarted? Framing questions in this way leads to mistakes. It pushes an answer that Russia will meddle, but the reasoning is incomplete. The use of cyber is more than a logical and inevitable outgrowth of Kremlin attempts to influence Western democracies since the annexation of Crimea. The reality is much more ambiguous and less subject to top down control.

Quasi-state structures

To understand the motives and logic of the Kremlin leaders, one should take at least three points into account.

The first problem? Cyberwar matters enjoy a certain autonomy vis-à-vis political decision-making at the state level. This is a kind of geopolitical ‘outsourcing’. It means the ‘dirty work’ gets done by quasi-state structures, such as ‘troll farms’ or private military companies. Anyone who thinks that the Kremlin holds meetings to wonder whether or not to interfere in the U.S. midterm elections is seriously wrong.

This is not to say that there is no connection between the state and informal structures engaging in influencing the news. Yet these links are poorly institutionalised and remain confidential. An important facet here: for members of the government and the presidential administration (perhaps with a few exceptions) this sphere remains as ephemeral and mystical as for many outside observers.

This is deliberate. Vladimir Putin’s ruling style is such that the state should not be held responsible for actions that lie beyond the law. No actions that go beyond the logic of partner-like relations with other countries can be traced back to formal power structures. This is important to understand: in the mindset of Putin’s regime, the state has hardly any links to cyber wars. All real responsibility for this is attributed to structures which are, so to speak, ‘politically friendly’ towards the Russian authorities.

Accordingly, the Kremlin in principle does not need wonder whether or not to interfere in the U.S. elections. The question is worded quite differently: Does it make sense to hamper the work of regime-friendly structures operating in the fairway to protect Russia’s geopolitical interests? If this question were to be answered in the affirmative, the geopolitical situation would need to change dramatically. However, such a change is not happening and is unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

The second problem is the presumption of Russia’s guilt. On the eve of the Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki, there was a detailed discussion in the Kremlin. Should Russians assure the American leader (and how) that Russia does not intend to influence the midterm elections? Opinions in Putin’s close circles were divided into two unequal parts. The minority urged Putin to make every effort to erase any doubts and assure Trump that Russia would not ‘frame’ the head of the White House. They wanted Putin to insist Russia will not give any reasons for the American establishment to increase its pressure on Trump. In this context, Trump’s tweet about Moscow’s potential help for the Democrats is not only political speculation. It also reflects a fear of Moscow’s activity (if there is a will, Moscow could give a lot of reasons to get the American leader suspected of ‘collusion’). Realising this, Vladimir Putin was ready to give Trump all the needed assurances on the upcoming campaign.

Yet the second part of Putin’s close circles took a different stance. This part mirrors the mood of the majority of the Russian conservative elites who currently set the tone in Russian geopolitics. They persuaded Putin that there will be no change, no matter if Russia interferes in the elections or not. The Russian leader was presented with a simulation. The Kremlin, in this scenario, suppresses any initiative and activity from hackers and trolls. It commands the secret services to take a time-out. Would this help to reduce the anti-Russian sentiments in the West? Would it bring deescalation? The answer to this question is negative. There is a broad presumption of Russia’s guilt. As such, it becomes pointless and tricky for the Kremlin to ‘roll back’ and voluntarily renounce cyber-weapons. Putin’s political will or lack thereof is largely irrelevant. The accusatory tone of American elites and the media means an easy win for the Russian ‘hawks’. If there is no difference between interference and non-interference, why choose a weaker position?

Finally, the third, long-term problem. Cyberpolitics is not a one-time tool to influence current political events and processes. It turns into a vital infrastructure that requires high investments and political attention. The aim is to collect and analyse information about the ‘enemy’ and its weaknesses. Cyberpolitics is a mechanism to keep an eye on things at all times. To be relevant means staying active. Either strike a blow or take a pause. Unlike traditional warfare, the special nature of cyber weapons lies in the fact that they can be ‘deployed’ relatively unnoticeably in the enemy’s territory. Then they can be activated and regulated to manage the degree of damage or impact, depending on tactical tasks. Cyber weapons can be either passive (aimed at future operations or intelligence gathering) or active, affecting the current life of systems.

Having experienced the taste of cyber-power, Russia will not voluntarily renounce it. Hiding for a while is an option but it is certainly too late to even consider redeployment of cyber weapons. Incidentally, one should not be too caustic about Putin’s offer to Trump to create a cybersecurity task force. What underlies this proposal is a recognition of the fact that ever more countries are building their cyber-muscles. This process needs regulation. Moscow understands better than anyone else that Putin’s regime can become the target of such attacks tomorrow. Effective safeguards against such attacks (and also a lower degree of cyber vulnerability) are available right now only for technologically underdeveloped countries.

Today, the Kremlin is preparing for the worst in relations with the United States. It does not expect any positive developments in the foreseeable future. Hence, the wartime logic will continue to prevail among the overwhelming majority of the Russian elites. Most are deeply disappointed about what they see as an impossibility to negotiate things with the West. The first world cyberwar is entering into its most active stage. And Moscow does not intend to leave the battlefield voluntarily.

Commentary for CARNEGIE.RU

Two Trumps in Helsinki: Russia’s Approach to the U.S. President

The U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki lasted just one day, but the battle of interpretations that unfolded around it seems endless. Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s meeting is one of the most enigmatic diplomatic events of recent years. There is virtually no understanding of what the two leaders said, what (if anything) they agreed upon, and what the next steps might be.

But that isn’t because the next steps are being deliberately kept secret. Rather, even those plans that have tentatively been made could quickly dissolve amid mutual misunderstanding and antagonism.

There is only one conclusion that the Russian and U.S. political establishments can agree on: Putin “won” the July 16 talks. But was the Helsinki summit really all that successful for the Russian leader?

Each country has demonstrated a distinct emotional reaction to Putin’s supposed victory: anger in America, euphoria in Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the meeting as “better than super.” Meanwhile, in the West, the hashtag #TreasonSummit began trending in reaction to Trump’s submissive behavior and rhetoric.

Vladimir Putin did indeed look like the winner: at the closing press conference he outlined broad possibilities for future cooperation and recited several Russian proposals, from setting up a council of experts to cooperating on Syria. Meanwhile, Trump looked like a follower. He cast doubts on U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings and demonstrated an eagerness to resolve the crisis in bilateral relations. This made the summit a clear success for Russia.

But now that some time has passed, it is becoming clear that the initial assessments were dominated by emotions, and that Vladimir Putin’s success was more psychological than geopolitical.

Russia’s main objective in the run-up to the Helsinki meeting was not to reach specific agreements, but rather to institutionalize and legitimize dialogue. Putin offered Trump an assortment of potential initiatives, from broad and international to sensitive and local. For each issue, Moscow prepared a road map with just one goal in mind: to draw the White House back to the negotiating table to discuss all the issues.

Vladimir Putin proposed four new formats for cooperation. The first was the establishment of a council of experts well versed in the history of the two countries. Their mission would be to seek “points of contact between the two countries”—or, in other words, to work on a positive strategic agenda in U.S.-Russian relations. The United States has yet to respond to this initiative.

The second was the creation of a Russian-American business forum. This is a very ambitious idea, given the sanctions regime and the extreme toxicity of Russian money in the United States. It was cautiously accepted by the U.S. side, as confirmed recently by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. However, there are reasons to believe the two sides won’t be able to agree on the participants and aims of such a forum.

The third proposal, also acknowledged by Pompeo, was “to reestablish a working group on anti-terrorism” at the level of the deputy foreign ministers. The other option discussed was establishing dialogue between the national security secretaries—presumably U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton and Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev. This could raise the stakes in unfinished personnel changes in Russia’s security and foreign policy blocs. A meeting between Bolton and Patrushev is reportedly already under works for August.

Finally, the fourth proposal was a cybersecurity working group. Its prospects remain unclear. Putin pitched this idea to Trump at their first meeting in Hamburg in July 2017. Back then, the White House immediately rejected the idea. The U.S. political establishment perceived it as flagrant trolling by the Russian president, who had been accused of overseeing cyberattacks against U.S. democracy.

On Syria, the conversation was provisionally divided between two goals. First, Trump was attempting to essentially create an anti-Iran coalition with Russia. That did not yield anything new. Second, Moscow proposed a humanitarian project envisaging refugees returning to Syria and efforts to develop infrastructure to deliver humanitarian cargo. Ultimately, the idea that Russia would give up Iran and receive something from the U.S. in return, widely discussed before the summit, turned out to be too unrealistic.

Finally, on Ukraine, Putin invited Trump to support the idea of a referendum on special status for the breakaway Donbas region. This was supposed to be an alternative to Moscow’s attempts to achieve legal recognition of the region’s autonomy with a special law or amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution. The White House categorically declined this offer and soon reinforced its position with the Crimea Declaration, which rejected Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.

But are any of these proposals practicable? The breadth of the Russian initiatives is overshadowed by their low likelihood of implementation. Furthermore, the more proactive Putin is, the more vulnerable Trump appears and, thus, the lower the chances are of progress on Putin’s initiatives.

All this explains why the summit looked like a victory for Putin: we can make a list of the Russian president’s objectives and proposals, but it is virtually impossible to say what Trump offered Russia. The intensity and relative transparency of Moscow’s intentions and Putin’s traditional directness stood in stark contrast to Trump’s frequently contradictory rhetoric. The only thing Trump said in his initial remarks at the summit’s closing press conference was that the United States needs to conduct constructive dialogue with Russia. The U.S. president also made abstract references to possible subjects of this dialogue (interference in the U.S. elections, the denuclearization of North Korea, the fight against terrorism, pressure on Iran), but he did not make U.S. national priorities at all clear.

The mismatch of Putin and Trump’s agendas in Helsinki created the impression that Trump had no counteroffers to openly make to Putin, that he was losing the initiative and just following Russia’s lead. In this sense, Putin really did outmaneuver Trump. However, this was largely the result of Russia’s acute need to normalize relations and its eagerness to cooperate on the full range of issues. Meanwhile, other than an abstract desire to “get along,” Trump had no plan of action.

As a result, Helsinki quickly lost its significance. It was eclipsed by the “post-summit”—the escalation of domestic pressure on Trump and the revision of the meeting’s results. The summit “continued”—without the presidents—as a chaotic information war between the United States and Russia’s respective establishments, a war that could have no winners.

Right after Helsinki, Trump reversed his denial of Russian election interference, invited Putin to visit DC in the fall, and then rescinded the invitation. He also accused Moscow of trying to help Democrats in the midterm elections.

Meanwhile, U.S. legislators began discussing a new sanctions bill that would target investors in Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline and strengthen restrictions on Russia. The United States also arrested Russian citizen Maria Butina, published the harshly worded Crimea Declaration, and accused Russian hackers of attacking the U.S. power grid. All of this is the result of the Helsinki summit and the price that Russia will have to pay for its tête-à-tête with Trump.

If Vladimir Putin’s main objective in Helsinki was to restore dialogue with the United States, as many suggest, Russia now appears to have some new doubts: should it view Trump as the ultimate objective, or only as an instrument for promoting Russian foreign policy priorities? These are essentially two different approaches to building relations with Washington. Moscow is torn, trying to make headway on both, but actually creating obstacles to progress.

Under the first approach, where Trump is the objective, the U.S. president can and should be an active player in normalizing bilateral relations. The supporters of this approach, particularly in the diplomatic community, feel that the U.S. president needs time to overcome the anti-Russia sentiment at home and strengthen his standing in the U.S. administration.

They are counting on the Republicans to maintain their majority in Congress after the midterm elections, hoping that—together with economic growth—this will stabilize Trump’s position in the U.S. establishment. If that occurs, Russia could negotiate with Trump on extending the New START Treaty, divide up Syria, and discuss Ukraine.

Under the second approach, where Trump is the instrument, the U.S. president is seen not as a practitioner of U.S. foreign policy but as a mechanism for disrupting it. Part of the Russian elite, particularly its members from the security services, views Trump as a political outsider who is rejected by the U.S. establishment. He is a convenient instrument for sowing chaos in U.S. politics, testing the strength of the Euro-Atlantic partnership, and splintering the West’s traditional common geopolitical front.

These conservative players trust neither Trump nor any forums created with his involvement. Their skepticism is based on their deep conviction that the entire U.S. system seeks to destroy Russia and subvert the Putin regime. For them, the summit was a serious victory if only because it prompted a wave of panic in the United States about Trump’s potential treason.

This political camp has no intention of reaching agreements with Trump or the United States. Furthermore, it will be opposed to any hint of normalizing bilateral relations, because that would stand in the way of the policy of fueling chaos and disarray in the United States. One cannot simultaneously invest in Trump as a partner and attack the U.S. system, because, in the latter scenario, the system will always seek to destroy Trump.

The results of the “post-summit” show that the concept of “Trump as the instrument” is more accessible and achievable for Russia, while the concept of “Trump as the ultimate objective” leaves fewer hopes for real results.

Yes, Putin was able to come off as the stronger and more mature leader, and it looked like Trump was afraid to say to Putin’s face what the U.S. elite wanted him to say. But if the Kremlin wants to invest in Trump, it will need greater flexibility and a better understanding of the significance of the “Russia problem” for the U.S. establishment. So far, Russia’s elite appears distinctly unprepared for that.

Cookies & Privacy

By continuing to browse, you are agreeing to our use of cookies as explained in our Conditions générales.

Sign up for our emails!

Receive updates and news from R.Politik

Your email is safe with us, we don’t spam.