Putin calls for dialogue with Trump amid worsening US-Russia ties

Liao Bingqing (Xinhua)


Amid ongoing tense frictions between Moscow and Washington, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeals to his US counterpart Donald Trump to resume direct talks so as to discuss urgent issues on bilateral and international agendas, China’s Xinhua News Agency reported.

Noting that the two countries "have reached the bottom of our relations" at his annual press conference on Thursday, Putin reconfirmed his readiness for dialogue and said it is time for both sides to think with a clear head and start mending bilateral ties.

Despite Putin's bona fide gesture, experts say it is difficult to restart bilateral high-level meetings, as Russia-US relations will see a "gradual deterioration" in the foreseeable future.

"I have said many times that we are ready, and we believe that there are issues we must discuss together," Putin said.

"Whatever happens, we have to build up bilateral relations and we are ready for it. We will start doing it as soon as the opposite party is ready," he added.

As someone who got stood up twice in one month, Putin's agitation and eagerness are understandable. After a meeting with Trump in Paris was cancelled up in early November, another chance was spoiled weeks ago when the US president, on his way to Buenos Aires, called off their scheduled meeting on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) summit held in the Argentine capital.

The last-minute decision took many by surprise, as the meeting was widely anticipated to be a follow-up to a summit in Finland's capital Helsinki in May, the only official meeting ever between Putin and Trump, at which they reached limited consensus.

Obvious drawbacks

Alexey Bogdanov, associate professor at the Department of American Studies of the St Petersburg State University, called the Helsinki summit "a symbol of unfulfilled expectations of the year."

He noted that the United States intended to use the summit to influence Russian policies, while Russia wished to ease the sanction pressure through the meeting. Both positions were kept in the subsequent contacts by Russian and US officials, which eventually wiped out the groundwork laid at the Helsinki summit.

"In this sense, Trump's refusal to meet with Putin during the G20 summit clearly testifies a growing conviction of the US side that dialogue is ineffective to the development of relations with Russia in a constructive way," Bogdanov said.

Meanwhile, Trump has encountered harsh criticism domestically after the Helsinki summit, being accused of catering to certain Russian demands, which hurt his political reputation. Therefore, it turns out that meeting with Putin not only failed to bring substantial advantages, but also had obvious drawbacks.

"The factors that led to the cancellation of meetings in Paris and Buenos Aires did not vanish, but aggravated over time," said Viktor Olevich, a leading expert of the Russian Center for Actual Politics think-tank.

The past months have seen escalating tensions between Russia and the United States with the continued sanction game and military confrontation.

Following a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain in March, the two countries expelled large numbers of each other's diplomatic personnel, and Washington imposed multiple rounds of economic sanctions on Moscow.

Moreover, Russia and the United States, along with their allies, have both conducted large-scale military drills throughout the year while trading accusations of violating border areas and threatening regional security.

"The current situation in Russia-US relations can be best described by the phrase 'gradual deterioration'. The unsustainable foundation of these relations formed in the last 30 years has been consistently destroyed," Bogdanov said.

Now the battered bilateral relations are faced with even more challenges. After the US midterm elections and the Democrats' victory in the House of Representatives, the issue of relations with Russia is becoming increasingly critical for the Trump administration.

Putin also expressed concern over the influence brought by the change of power in the US Congress on the prospects of direct dialogue between the leaders.

"We can predict new attacks on the incumbent president with nearly 100 percent of certainty. I don't know if he will be able to start a direct dialogue with Russia in these conditions," Putin said at the press conference.

This forces Trump to continue to "stick to a hardline against Russia" in order to prevent the strength of his critics and opponents from growing, Bogdanov said.

Worse still, a Russian citizen Maria Butina confessed last week to conspiring with others to influence US politics in 2015-2018, although Moscow accused Washington of forcing her to cooperate with investigators in exchange for a shorter prison term.

Butina's guilty plea could serve as evidence for Russia's long-alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election, which is expected to further drive up the hostile sentiment between the two sides.

Washington has repeatedly said that new sanctions are on the way.

"The immediate future is the unwinding of the sanction spiral. This is evidenced by both the actions and the official rhetoric of Washington," Bogdanov said.

The Russia-US impasse is deeply rooted in their irreconcilable divergences on a whole palette of issues, where they failed to set up fundamental principles of relations, experts said.

These issues include global financial architecture, world trading system, international strategic stability, Syria, Iran, Ukraine and so on.

"The sanctions do not in fact depend on specific events ... but they reflect the lack of a common understanding of security problems at all levels - national, regional and global," Bogdanov said.

In particular, the US decisions to withdraw from the Iranian nuclear deal and the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty exactly showed the different manners of the two countries in securing regional security, Bogdanov said.

Viewing each other as geopolitical rivals, Russia and the United States are almost destined to continue the confrontational dynamics in the long run.

Washington is eager to maintain the US-centred world order and has undertaken a whole range of steps to isolate Russia, while Moscow cannot accept the US domination in the world, experts said.

"The US-Russia relationship today, for the foreseeable future, could be the most dangerous relationship, because the United States won't compromise and Russia will not accept defeat," said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.

"We should not expect any significant changes in Russia-US relations in the near future. This relationship will only deteriorate," Olevich said.

Well aware of the worsening situation, Russia has started pursuing multi-pronged counter-measures.

Strategic balance

Facing increasing sanction pressure, Russia has launched a de-dollarisation plan for its economy, including reducing the US debt and encouraging use of the Russian ruble in certain international payments.

Efforts were also seen in the defence field. Putin said on Thursday that Russia is developing new weapons to keep strategic balance and defend its security in response to a rising nuclear threat caused by the US pullout from arms control treaties.

In addition, worsening Russia-US relations are pushing Moscow to develop relations with other countries like China, Japan and India.

The strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing has reached the highest level in history, and Russia is also actively making efforts to facilitate the signing of a peace treaty with Japan.

Russian experts warned that rising conflicts between Russia and the United States could affect international politics in general.

"Conflicts between the leading powers affect the lives of less influential and less powerful countries," Olevich said.

Nevertheless, experts said that the deadlock of Russia-US relations will not run out of control.

"Neither party thinks that it can gain anything by going to war... There is no intention in either country to attack the other," Trenin said.

- Bernama