Donald Trump has promised to shake things up in Washington, and that appears to hold true for international relations as well. According to Trump advisor Kelly Ann Conway, the new President is meeting to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on a whole range of issues, including the Obama-era sanctions currently hampering Russia’s economic growth.
The first round of sanctions, which primarily affect Russia’s financial and energy sectors, were imposed in 2014 following the Russian invasion of the Crimea, and the second round after the hacking scandal broke late in 2016.
Trump will also speak with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Francois Hollande, who are staunch supporters of the sanctions. Trump has talked about the possibility of easing or ending these sanctions in the past. A ‘moment of truth’ style reckoning may soon be at hand. Which path will President Trump choose? His influence could likely sway the course of history on this issue, and affect the economic and political landscape of Europe for years to come, as well. Though clearly a man who plays it cool, Vladimir Putin is likely waiting for their talk with abated breath. A lot is riding on Trump’s decision, though it may not come during this first meeting.
In the interests of forging a new relationship with Russia, bearing in mind that U.S. / Russian relations are at an all-time low since the end of the cold war, and hoping to benefit from a cooperative and forward-thinking new climate, and perhaps, as many would argue, because he lacks good judgment and fails to see the importance of reining in a dangerous bully acting recklessly and selfishly on the international stage, Trump may lean towards Putin on the matter of sanctions.
However, Merkel and Hollande, leaders of nations with long, positive diplomatic histories with the U.S., may very well convince him otherwise. After all, Trump is an old-school deal maker, and surely the leaders of two of the most powerful European countries can potentially offer a range of enticing deals to win him over (as can Russia, most likely.) In the recent past Trump’s said he might favor lifting sanctions if Russia cooperates with the U.S. in fighting terrorists.
So, since the art of the deal isn’t an exact science, and Trump is a true wild card, anything can happen. This must worry Putin, who wants to get Russia out from under the harsh economic sanctions, restoring the flow of credit into Russia, and the flow of natural gas out of Russia, to bolster the Russian economy. In short, if the U.S. dropped sanctions, it would be a huge economic boon to Putin’s Russia.
Well, is Putin worried? Clearly, as the methodical KGB-trained leader who ordered a hacking campaign to smear Hillary Clinton during the U.S. election, which many believe contributed significantly to Trump’s victory, he has invested in a favorable outcome for Russia. So, we must ask, is he confident that Trump will serve the ball to his court, or is this seasoned, machiavellian leader contemplating buyer’s remorse?