Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signaled during his recent press conference that Russia is keen to commence talks with the new administration as soon as possible. «We will be ready as soon as the US administration takes office and prepares itself to meet, to talk business, feeling the responsibility before the people of our countries and the people of the rest of the world», said the top diplomat.
True, the reports about a summit planned to take place in Reykjavik have been denied but preparations for a top level meeting are on the way. It’s logical to surmise that a summit will take place in two-three months as neither side is prone to drag it out.
US President-elect Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that he is prepared to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin some time after he is sworn in on Jan. 20. «I understand that they would like to meet, and that’s absolutely fine with me», he said. Before the election he had made known his desire to meet the Russian leader even prior to the inauguration.
A small neutral country would be the right place to host such a meeting. Mr. Trump has no reasons to procrastinate. The president-elect has been accused of being soft on Russia many times. He has nothing to lose anymore. Talks at the level of foreign chiefs is enough to arrange for it.
Clearly, it’s reasonable to hold a meeting before the G20 Hamburg summit in July. A multinational summit is not the best place to make personal acquaintance, especially in view that the German Chancellor is yet to meet the new US president while the differences between Germany and Russia are well known.
In a joint interview with the Times of London and the German publication Bild, it was put to Trump that Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin know each other well. He was asked which of the two he trusted more. The president-elect replied: «First and foremost, I trust both of them. Let’s see how long this goes on for. Maybe it won’t last for long». Nothing is certain, it’s all in the making.
No doubt the corresponding agencies will prepare the agenda but the main thing is the exchange of views on fundamental issues. Mr. Trump is a non-traditional politician with his own vision of the world. He is adamant in his desire to fundamentally re-examine the US foreign policy. As Judge Jeanine Pirro – an extremely popular and influential Fox News host – put it, «This Wasn't an Election, It Was a Revolution». In a range of areas the US foreign policy could be turned on its head and it’s impossible to predict the turn of the virtual conversation between the two leaders.
In the interview with the Times of London and Bild, the president-elect suggested that the sanctions imposed on Russia could be eased in return for a deal to reduce nuclear weapons. There is no way to see how the two issues intertwine but the expressed interest in making progress in arms control is important.
Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal he’d keep sanctions for «at least a period of time». His incoming chief of staff told Fox News Sunday that the president-elect accepted the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia was engaged in cyber-attacks during the US presidential election. But it should be taken into account that Mr. Trump is attacked from all sides because of his stance on Russia. They put him on the defensive but the president-elect is holding the line.
There is a smear campaign launched by his opponents in an effort to obstruct his presidency. But despite all the ballyhoo raised, Donald Trump continues to stand tall much to the chagrin of the «establishment». In his interview with the Wall Street Journal he said, «If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?»
There is another important phrase worth mentioning. «They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it», Trump told the London Times. «But Russia’s hurting very badly right now because of sanctions, but I think something can happen that a lot of people are gonna benefit».
These words clarify his position. According to him, there is no link between the anti-Russia sanctions imposed by the EU and the Russia-US talks on arms control. He is weighing the possibility of reaching agreements with Russia on burning security issues.
Mr. Trump wants a frank conversation. Candid talks would show what exactly agreements are possible to reach. Donald Trump wants to make good deals for his country. He is pragmatic and a nationalist opposing globalization. The president-elect views the world as a place with different poles of power pursuing different aims.
In his opinion, a national state is more important than the Euro-Atlantic paradigm. His goal is not the global dominance of one prevailing force but deals made in the world where different balances of interests exist. Donald Trump does not advocate «the winner takes it all» approach; he views the contemporary world as a multipolar international system.
The new US president is not a reckless gambler. He simply does share the view that global commitments meet the interests of common Americans. This means Russia and the US can strike a bargain as pragmatic dealmakers and as such, they have a good chance to succeed. A summit may drastically change the contemporary world for the common benefit.