The Kremlin did not anticipate Trump’s electoral victory. It was preparing for Hillary Clinton and the prospect of US-Russian relations continuing to deteriorate, with a not-too-trivial chance of a kinetic collision between Russian and US forces — such as through the imposition of a no-fly zone in Syria, which Clinton supported.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump’s election is a chance to pull relations with the United States out of the danger zone and make deals on issues such as Syria and Ukraine. Trump’s comment that “wouldn’t it be nice” to get “along with Russia,” his offer to join forces with Moscow to fight the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and his comment on Crimea’s people being happier now than under Ukraine’s rule, have not gone unnoticed by the Kremlin.
Putin sees Trump as a fellow leader who cares more about his country’s national interest than about ideologies. In Moscow’s view, a United States that is largely focused on itself is far more welcome than a United States that seeks to dominate the world and aggressively promote its values, norms, and principles in a borderless environment.
That said, the Kremlin is fully aware of a myriad of uncertainties linked to the outcome of the U.S. vote. Will Trump stick to his guns when it comes to Russia or will he eventually succumb to the existing anti-Russian consensus, thereby making peace with the political establishment? Yet, for the first time in years, there is hope in Moscow that US-Russian relations can be improved in a way that is acceptable to Russia.