U.S.-Russia Relations in the Trump Administration


On January 10, the Center for the National Interest hosted an event focusing on the future of U.S.-Russia relations under the Trump administration. Center Executive Director Paul Saunders moderated a discussion with Andranik Migranyan, a chief policy expert at Moscow State University’s Center for Public and Political Programs, a professor at the Moscow Institute of International Relations, and the previous director at the former Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. A summary of the event can be found below. Footage of the event was broadcast live by The National Interest on Facebook and can be viewed online here.

U.S.-Russia Relations in the Trump Administration

An informal advisor to Russia’s Presidential Administration argued that the election of Donald Trump represents a revolution in America and that this may be the beginning of a new paradigm in American foreign policy and, thus, a new paradigm in international relations. Despite uncertainty in Moscow over what to expect going forward, Andranik Migranyan states, there is potential for growth in bilateral relations. Nevertheless, Russian leaders are realists when thinking about Trump and his administration, he said, and Moscow is aware of the various limitations on the presidency in the United States and understands that there will be many who will attempt to block President-Elect Trump from reformulating American foreign policy towards Russia. Andranik Migranyan is a chief policy expert at Moscow State University’s center for Public and Political Programs, a professor at the Moscow Institute of International Relations, and the previous director at the former Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. Center Executive Director Paul Saunders moderated.

Citing a Russian joke about why there has never been a “Color Revolution” in the United States—the punch line being that there is no American embassy in Washington—Migranyan said that they have been proven wrong, as the incoming Trump administration will be that long-awaited “American embassy” in D.C. that represents the American people’s interests. He asserted that Trump’s victory reflects ordinary Americans’ defeat of political elites.

Citing Trump’s past statements that NATO is obsolete, Migranyan saw new opportunities for “pragmatic relations” between the United States and Russia in Europe. He said that Russia does not pose a threat to the Baltic States, notwithstanding their concern, and questioned the utility of NATO—particularly its Eastern European members—to U.S. national interests. He asserted that Eastern European governments hype up the threat posed by Russia in order to keep American involved in the region as a counterbalance to Moscow. According to Migranyan, despite what he called the “apartheid” treatment of ethnic Russians in the Baltic States, Russia is not interested in expansion or attacking its neighbors. Indeed, if NATO’s Article 5 does not make those governments feel secure enough, he said that Moscow would be willing to provide territorial and security guarantees to Eastern European governments.

With regards to Ukraine, Migranyan stated that the West does not understand the historical context and dynamics behind the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. According to Migranyan, Russia expected Ukraine to follow the friendly, neutral course it declared following independence in 1991. He drew a parallel between the United States’ opposition to the stationing of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba—which the Kennedy administration saw as posing an existential threat—and Russia’s opposition to Ukraine’s potential absorption into NATO and the European Union. Migranyan argued that any steps Russia could take to mitigate the conflict would depend on changes in U.S. policy, as Kiev takes its marching orders from Washington (from Moscow’s perspective). Migranyan believes that if Ukraine could revert to a neutral course and implement the terms of the Minsk Agreement, Russia could re-open its market to Ukraine to aid the latter’s economic recovery, restore control of the border to Ukraine, and offer security guarantees.

In discussing the Middle East, Migranyan argued that Trump said one must be foolish not to cooperate with Russia if the latter is fighting ISIS. Migranyan stated that Russia is ready to cooperate with the United States in the Middle East, and he is hopeful that the incoming Trump administration will pursue deeper cooperation with a willing partner in Moscow to counter a common enemy. Migranyan went so far as to say that Russia’s healthy bilateral relationships in the region could make it be a complementary partner to the U.S. and its allies in “design[ing] the new map of the greater Middle East.”

According to Migranyan, improved bilateral relations also have the potential to generate geopolitical shifts in Asia that would be beneficial to both Washington and Moscow. Migranyan said he is hopeful that the incoming administration could avoid the mistakes of the past three administrations that have pushed Russia and China closer together. Better relations with Russia would provide Russia with greater flexibility in how it manages its relations with China, argues Migranyan, and would be better for the U.S. too.