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    Next US Leader Through Russia’s Eyes: Predictable Foe or Unpredictable Friend?

    © AFP 2018 / Saul LOEB
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    2016 US Presidential Election (161)

    As the relations between Russia and the United States by the end of President Barack Obama’s term have reached the lowest level since the Cold War, it falls on the shoulders of the next US leader either to reverse the negative trend, or to let it crystallize.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik), Anastasia Levchenko — US Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump have diametrically opposite views on Russia, with the first likely to become Moscow’s "predictable foe" in case of victory, and the latter rather an "unpredictable friend."

    Hawkish Clinton

    Hillary Clinton supports the prolongation of anti-Russian sanctions over Ukraine and argues that Kiev deserves more military equipment, training and financial aid from Washington. She called on the EU states to be more committed to sanctions, despite some European leaders questioning the necessity to continue the measures that cripple economies, and supported the strengthening of ties between NATO and Ukraine, which is seen by Russia as a provocation.

    The Democratic nominee also seeks to expand the US missile system in Eastern Europe, despite Moscow’s repeatedly-voiced concerns over the military build-up in the vicinity of the Russian borders.

    On Syria, Clinton is eager to establish a no-fly zone, which was avoided even by Obama, since it could mean a direct military confrontation with Russia in Syria.

    The candidate calls Russian and Iranian actions in Syria an "open support" for Syrian President Bashar Assad and promises to renew the US pursuit to dominate in the Middle East.

    Above that, Clinton accuses Russia of cyberattacks and being behind the Wikileaks’ releases of her campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails in order to influence the US election. Russian top officials have denied the allegations. Russian President Vladimir Putin said in late October that Russia did not have a favorite in the US presidential race but would cooperate with any new leader.

    "Clinton is more hawkish toward Russia than Obama is. In fact, she has a much more negative view of Putin than Obama has," John Mearsheimer, a renowned American political scientist and author of the theory of offensive realism, told Sputnik in an interview.

    This antagonism with the Russian leader might be personal, Richard Sakwa, professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent, believes.

    "Clearly, she is having a deep personal antagonism with Putin, and the feeling is mutual. So, on a personal level, things are going to be very difficult. … Also, Hillary Clinton advanced the idea of humanitarian interventions. So, ideologically, it could be enormously dangerous for US-Russia relations," Sakwa told Sputnik.

    Nevertheless, it was Hillary Clinton who, being State Secretary in 2009 proposed a "reset" in the US-Russia relations, Nikolai Zlobin, political analyst, founder and current president of the Center on Global Interests in Washington, noted.

    "Even though that attempt failed, at least she tried to improve ties with Russia," he told Sputnik.

    Unpredictable Trump

    Donald Trump, in contrast, praised Putin’s leadership and said he would enjoy meeting the Russian leader.

    He avoided giving a direct reply to a question at a press conference in July whether he would recognize Crimea as Russian territory and seek lifting of sanctions, saying only "we'll be looking at that." Analysts expect that Trump, in case of victory, would at least partially lift the sanctions.

    As for NATO, the cause of many Russia’s concerns, Trump questions the relevance of the alliance at all in today’s security environment. The GOP candidate says it is outdated and too costly for Washington.

    On Syria, Trump believes that Moscow, Damascus and Tehran are the only ones who really fight terrorism in the region, and wants to work closer with Russia against Daesh.

    Trump also believes that "Putin outsmarted Obama" in Syria and criticizes Clinton for "speaking so badly of Putin," calling it unwise.

    The Republican nominee has repeatedly denied Clinton’s accusations of having any ties with Kremlin and rejected any interference of Moscow in his campaign. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated a case against some of his advisers over the alleged links with the Russian authorities, but has not found any evidence, according to local media reports as of Tuesday.

    "If Trump gets elected, it's quite clear from everything he said that relations will probably improve somewhat. He is not going to be elected. But if a miracle happens, he will do something to improve relations with Russia," John Mearsheimer told Sputnik.

    Nevertheless, an extravagant manner of the GOP candidate makes some analysts doubt how trustworthy his election pledges are.

    "I am not sure Trump would be such a better option for Russia, to be honest. He does understand things and has a more strategic sense that Clinton. He is the only one who said some seriously intelligent things in his campaign. Unfortunately, he is unpredictable," Richard Sakwa told Sputnik.

    Moreover, being a successful businessman, Trump is a beginner in politics, Zlobin noted.

    "No one usually says it, but it must be said that at his 69, this is basically his first appearance on the political scene. … The only thing we can say for sure is that if he becomes the president, the United States will have a very inconsistent foreign policy. He can rush from one extreme to another, being an unexperienced politician," Nikolai Zlobin told Sputnik.

    Man is Known by Company He Keeps

    Whatever campaign pledges the candidates make, they may see considerable changes after the elections, depending on the team that the winner will choose and the political environment he or she will have to work in.

    "Trump may face resistance, as he will operate in the foreign policy establishment that is filled with people hostile to Russia. So even Trump will have problems," John Mearsheimer told Sputnik.

    An experienced businessman but inexperienced politician, Trump may fail to withstand the pressure "from the domestic elites and other centers of force in the United States," making inadequate decisions, Zlobin noted.

    Clinton is known for her favoring of neo-conservatives, who believe that democracy is universal and that the United States should do anything possible to advance democracy, according to Richard Sakwa.

    "It all depends on who she is going to choose as her State Secretary. If it's [former deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbott, he knows Russia very well. But his book ‘The Russia Hand’ reveals many dangerous elements in his understanding. He takes a very hard line. He has no understanding of Russia's strategic concerns. … But may be after the election a more balanced policy could emerge," Sakwa told Sputnik.

    Choosing the Lesser of Evils

    None of the candidates gives Russians a real hope for a relief of tensions with Washington, as experts predict the two sides will continue discussions on Syria and Ukraine, the two issues the sides still fail to see eye to eye.

    "There will have to be continuing discussion of the situation in Syria. … Discussions on Ukraine will continue as well, and I guess at some point, I don't know how long it will take to form a new cabinet, but then they will be looking to have a high-level meeting between the two presidents. There has to be an agenda that they can talk about," Director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University Angela Stent told Sputnik.

    Most analysts concur that the status-quo in bilateral ties is the best scenario Russia can hope for in the current situation.

    "US-Russian relations have been on a downward spiral for quite some time, and to reverse that is not easy, and will take a concerted effort from leadership on both sides. … I would be very happy if a major push was made just to ensure that our relations at least do not get worse," Toby Gati, president of TTG Global LLC Strategic Advisory Services in Washington and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told Sputnik.

    John Mearsheimer also believes that "all we can hope for is that if Clinton gets elected, we will maintain the status quo; the idea that things are going to improve any time soon is not on the cards."

    However, Russia has become resilient and cultivated a habit of dealing with any US leader during the long-standing history of US-Russia relations, Nikolai Zlobin believes. Even at the times of the toughest crises, and being on the verge of a nuclear war, the two countries managed to resolve problems by diplomatic means.

    "I think the damage that Clinton’s ideology-driven, schematic approach to Russia can make is possible to repair. Russia has gained a good experience throughout the years of work with such US politicians. … With all the possible disadvantages of Clinton, I think that predictability in foreign policy, even a bad one, is always better than unpredictability. A predictable foe is better than an unpredictable friend," Zlobin concluded.

    The US presidential election will be held on November 8. According to the New York Times/CBS News poll, Clinton retains a slim lead over Trump in final push but her three-point margin indicates the race is as tight as ever.

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