Fuelling hopes of a reset in the strained US-Russia relations, Russian President Vladimir Putin has shunned a tit-for-tat response to the Obama administration’s decision to impose new sanctions and expel 35 Russian diplomats. Mr Putin’s “smart” response has elicited praise from US President-elect Donald Trump, who is expected to ease frosty relations between Moscow and Washington after he takes charge as the leader of the world’s most powerful nation on January 20.
“Great move on delay (by V. Putin),” Mr Trump, known to be an admirer of the Russian leader, said on the microblogging site Twitter on December 30. “I always knew he was very smart!”
The Obama administration had announced on December 29 that it will expel 35 Russian “intelligence operatives” and shut down facilities in Maryland and New York used by Russian diplomats allegedly for intelligence-gathering. The US also announced additional sanctions against Moscow as a way to punish Moscow for the alleged role of Russian state-backed hackers in leaking information about then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to swing the election in Mr Trump’s favour. Moscow has vehemently denied the charge of influencing the 2016 US presidential elections, which has provided much fodder for Putin-baiters in beltway Washington.
No kitchen diplomacy, please!
In a statesman-like response, Mr Putin went against the advice of his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and decided against a tit-for-tat expulsion of US diplomats. In a deft move, with an eye on the future, Mr Putin said that he won’t create problems for American diplomats” and underlined that he would “plan further steps for restoring the Russian-American relationship based in the policies enacted by the administration of President Donald Trump.” He also invited the children of American diplomats in Russia to a holiday party in the Kremlin.
“While we reserve the right to take reciprocal measures, we’re not going to downgrade ourselves to the level of irresponsible ‘kitchen’ diplomacy,” Mr Putin said. “In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration” of Donald J. Trump, he stressed.
Mr Putin’s smart restraint indicates his calculation that the new US President-elect will walk the talk during his campaign speeches about improving the febrile US-Russia relations, leading to an eventual lifting of the onerous US sanctions which have badly mauled the Russian economy.
Mr Trump’s decision to appoint Rex W. Tillerson, a member of US-Russia Business Council and chief executive of Exxon Mobil with a record of close dealings with Moscow, as the next Secretary of State further reinforces the impression that the new US President-elect is ready to defy the anti-Russia establishment in Washington and go the extra mile to ease the strained Russia-US relations that plummeted to a new low during the Obama presidency. Mr Tillerson is known to enjoy close personal friendship with Mr Putin and his confidant, Igor Sechin, the powerful head of Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil giant.
What reset means for India
The improved Russia-US relations bode well for India, which has close strategic relations with both countries. Moscow has reacted with suspicion to what it sees as the growing strategic nexus between New Delhi and Washington. India is betting on better relations between Washington and Moscow as the US sanctions have impacted New Delhi’s efforts to upgrade economic ties with Russia. If the US-Russia thaw becomes real under Trump’s watch, it will be good news for India as it will pave the stage for acceleration of India’s relations with its two foremost partners, US and Russia, without either relationship becoming a zero sum game.
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.