“The US and Russia in a Trump Administration” with Andrei Kozyrev
On January 30th, 2017, the former Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Andrei Kozyrev, spoke to a sold out audience on ‘The United States and Russia in a Trump Administration’. This timely conversation was moderated by Jill Dougherty, Russia expert and former CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent. The conversation primarily focused on predicting what Putin wants from a Trump administration, as well as discussing the areas in which Russia and the US can cooperate moving forward.
Before these larger questions were addressed, Kozyrev outlined the political and economic landscapes of both nations which shape US-Russian relations and their subsequent political postures. From a political standpoint, Kozyrev noted the striking similarity between Putin’s base and Trump supporters. In both cases, their rise to power did not come from the major cities such as New York or Moscow, but from the rural areas struggling to compete in the global economy. Kozyrev stated that just as Trump supporters blame China for their economic woes, Putin’s supporters point at European imports as the source of their weakening economy. Kozyrev seemed dismayed at the rise of the populist parties and protectionist backlash in both nations and stated, “You can’t stop technological progress; you can’t stop globalization. You can temporarily stall it, you can build a wall like an iron curtain fortified with propaganda, but it doesn’t work.”
Ms. Dougherty stated that Vladimir Putin has a gained himself a reputation for being a seasoned and strategic diplomat. She noted that Putin is portrayed as playing his cards extremely well on the world stage. Kozyrev felt the need to put the record straight, and to put the results of Putin’s policies in perspective. According to Kozyrev, Russia has a plummeting economy and has extended itself into two wars (Syria and Ukraine) with no prospect of winning either. Russia’s GDP is currently 14x smaller than the GDP of USA. Russia does have nuclear weapons, but in Kozyrev words, “who cares about nuclear weapons, you can’t use nuclear weapons. Russians aren’t suicidal.” Based on the aforementioned political, economic, and military realities, Kozyrev
said that he would advise a Trump administration not to rush into meeting with Putin. Essentially, he alluded to the potential benefits of allowing Putin to sweat a bit, and let the enormous differences between the nations in terms of economy, morale, and democracy sink in. Kozyrev stated humorously: “In sum, Russia’s economy and wars are in Trump’s words ‘a disaster’.”
When Kozyrev was asked what Putin wants from a Trump administration, he answered plainly that Putin and the Kremlin want and expect “payback” from the Trump administration for their assistance during the election. While there has been no official government validation of Russian hacking during the US election, it is Kozyrev’s personal opinion that Putin’s government absolutely engaged in cyber hacking that assisted Trump’s rise to power. However, he agreed with Dougherty that not many individuals within the Kremlin trust Trump, and that it is anyone’s guess on Trump’s position on NATO, Europe, Russia, or China. Kozyrev stated aptly that he doesn’t think anyone in the world knows what Trump is up to; “we’re all following the tweets, myself included.”
After acknowledging the difficulty in predicting Trump policies, the conversation shifted gears to discuss the ways in which US and Russia might cooperate. Firstly, Kozyrev explained that it will be nearly impossible for the two nations to cooperate in the ongoing Syrian civil war. The US and Russia are on opposite sides of the conflict with Russia supporting the Assad Regime. While US-Russian cooperation in Syria seems fruitless, Kozyrev does believe there is potential for US and Russia to combat terrorism in other arenas, such as in resisting narco trafficking in Afghanistan. Other areas Kozyrev identified as opportunities for Russian-US cooperation range from nuclear non-proliferation – specifically in terms of curtailing Iran’s nuclear weapons development – to continuing collaboration on the International Space Station.
Despite the challenges facing Russia, Kozyrev remains hopeful for the nation’s future and believes in the Russian people. Kozyrev stood alongside then-President Boris Yeltsin on August 19, 1991 when tanks surrounded the Russian Parliament (also known as the White House), and watched as thousands of Muscovites surrounded the building as a human shield. This brave act curtailed the August coup, also known as the K.G.B. Bathhouse Plot, and gives Kozyrev confidence that Russians will ultimately win the democracy they deserve. Kozyrev concluded by saying, “I believe in Russia, and I believe in the Russian people. I tend to believe that Russians will wake up and come back to democratic institutions.”