Two days before Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, and like the rest of the world, Muscovites are waiting to see how Russian-US relations will change once he takes office.
The president-elect’s admiration for Vladimir Putin and his hints at a major shift in trans-Atlantic policy have brought expectations of improved ties between Moscow and Washington.
In an interview this week, Trump slammed NATO as obsolete and talked of making “good deals with Russia”, talking of reducing nuclear weapons and floating the idea of lifting sanctions imposed by the US in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and its military support for the Syrian government.
Confusion and scepticism
Fyodor Lykyanov, chairman of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defence Studies, said on Monday that linking the potential lifting of sanctions to a possible new arms deal was “a very clear manifestation that Mr Trump so far has no clue about what to do with Russia”. He added that the two sides might however find more common ground over the Middle East than was the case under the Obama administration.
Some people questioned in the Russian capital last weekend were sceptical that relations with the US would change.
“Americans always have their own policy. I think that maybe there will be a slight rapprochement at the top level, but they will keep following their own course,” said Moscow resident Sergei Pugachev.
“In the US, the president does not decide everything. There are many systems for balance and control. Of course, there is his own influence. But in general their attitude (towards us) will continue in the same direction,” added another Muscovite, Ramil Razatdinov.
Trump contradicted by his own side
Contacts have been confirmed between Donald Trump’s team and the Russian ambassador to Washington ahead of the inauguration, even as the Obama administration was imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Despite his comments appearing to reach out to Moscow, Trump has not articulated a clear policy on Russia and his stance has been directly contradicted by his own nominees for the top jobs in diplomacy and defence.
Both have made it clear they see Russia as a threat.
James Mattis, Trump’s choice for defence secretary, told a congressional panel last week that he thought President Putin was “trying to break the North Atlantic alliance”.
In his testimony, secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson agreed that Putin would likely have known about and authorised the operations, saying NATO allies were “right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia”.
Moscow trashes US intelligence, again
After Vladimir Putin rubbished intelligence reports about alleged compromising material on Donald Trump, on Wednesday his foreign minister went on the offensive over the accusations of Russian interference in the US election campaign – accusing the West of hypocrisy.
“A whole range of leaders of countries which are US allies openly campaigned for Hillary Clinton. Angela Merkel was actively doing that as well as François Hollande, Theresa May and other leaders of European states. Moreover, besides direct campaigning for Hillary Clinton, official representatives of the European countries were not shy to demonise Donald Trump,” Sergei Lavrov told a news conference in Moscow.
An intelligence report published last month by the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) detailed hacking operations allegedly sponsored by Moscow.
A declassified report published last week by the CIA, the FBI and the NSA (National Security Agency) estimated that Putin had ordered an influence campaign to undermine faith in the democratic process and boost Trump’s chances at the expense of Clinton.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, calls ex-British spy who wrote Trump memo “some runaway crook from MI-6.” https://t.co/xctylyfL80— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) January 18, 2017