The following are excerpts from an article by Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, posted on 2 February 2018. The full article can be read at http://carnegie.ru/commentary/75425
The year 2017 brought Russian foreign policy both major successes and bitter disappointments. One clear accomplishment has been the completion of the main phase of the military operation in Syria. Russia did not only reach its immediate objectives of keeping the Bashar Assad regime in power and thus ensuring the legal integrity of the Syrian state, as well as defeating the forces of the Islamic State organization, which is officially prohibited in Russia as terrorist. It also achieved an intermediate objective of making Russia again an influential player in the Middle East, and reached the ultimate objective of the entire Syrian operation: confirming Russia’s status as a global great power.
Relations with the West, on the other hand, brought nothing but disappointment. Hopes that new U.S. President Donald Trump would end the standoff with Russia weren’t just dashed, but replaced with far gloomier forecasts regarding the future of Russian-U.S. relations.
The investigation of Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which seeks to uncover evidence of treason in the actions of Trump and his team, has created a psychological climate in the United States in which Congress continues to expand sanctions against Russia in retribution for Kremlin interference in the U.S. election, while the media portray Russia as a greater enemy of the United States than the Soviet Union was.
In late January 2018, the U.S. Treasury Department came up with a long list of Russian officials and business figures with close links to the Kremlin. While no new U.S. sanctions were announced, this “naming and shaming” of two hundred-plus prominent Russian people enhanced Russia’s reputation in the West as a “toxic” country. In these conditions, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to build a personal relationship with Trump can have only very modest results.
Europe yielded further disappointment for Russia. The winner of the May 2017 presidential election in France wasn’t the candidate favored by Moscow, François Fillon, but rather Emmanuel Macron, who is significantly tougher on Russia. Hopes that Paris would spearhead the process of easing and then lifting sanctions against Russia have evaporated, and the dynamics of French foreign policy under Macron are more likely to drive Moscow and Paris further apart politically than to bring them closer together.
A similar trend has been developing during the past few years in Russo-German relations, which have regressed from being a crucial pillar of stability in Europe to mutual irritation and growing suspicion. Focused on managing its internal problems, the European Union — with the exception of its eastern flank member states — is less interested in Russia than ever before. As a result, Moscow hasn’t been able to compensate for the virtual blockade in relations with the United States by making progress in Europe.
The central cause of Russia’s troubled relations with Europe is the enduring armed conflict in Ukraine’s Donbass region and the inability of the parties to conflict even to effect a ceasefire along the line of contact. Constant crossfire with continued casualties runs counter to Moscow’s interests and only reinforces Kiev’s claim as a victim of aggression.
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