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Leery of Trump No Longer: Official Russia on the Trump-Putin Telephone Call of January 28th


Notwithstanding his disposition to establish constructive working relations with Russia repeated many times before and after the November 8 elections, in the past couple of weeks the incoming President got off to a bad start. 

In his interview with The Times of London just days before the Inauguration, Donald Trump  proposed changing the metrics used for possible lifting of sanctions on Russia from full implementation of the Minsk Accords which does not directly depend on Moscow and has been stymied by Kiev for its own reasons, to progress on curbing the nuclear arms race and disarmament, which is a matter for Washington and Moscow acting alone.  However, that splendid proposal failed to take into account the Kremlin’s aversion to any possible moves on nuclear weapons, which it sees as its great leveler, so long as there is no new security architecture in Europe and the world bringing Russia in from the cold. The answer from Moscow was a firm Nyet.

This false start was compounded by remarks from Trump’s spokesman after his boss was installed in the Oval Office suggesting that America still favored creation of safe havens, of a no-flight zone in Syria. This American initiative had already been dismissed when advanced by Barack Obama as just another ruse to protect the anti-Assad terrorists who were being supported by Washington and its Gulf State allies.

But now the early reverses have more than been repaired. In his 45-minute telephone call with President Putin on Saturday, January 28, Donald Trump appears to have kindled a very respectful and enthusiastic response from Official Russia.  By that term, I mean the Kremlin elites in parliament, in the universities and think tanks, in the media upon whom Vladimir Putin depends for nationwide support of his policies. Their collective views may be a better indication of where Russia is headed than remarks of Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson.

All that one needs to know to come to the above conclusion is available from Open Sources.  There is no need for a bug under Vladimir Putin’s pillow or that of his Kremlin entourage. And the best Open Sources in my estimation are the premier television news and political talk shows that run every Sunday night.

The first half-hour or so of Vesti Nedeli (News of the Week) on the 29th might have been mistaken for a US-origin program dubbed into Russian by anyone unfamiliar with their programming, because it was almost entirely devoted to the phone call with the American President and to the demonstrations against Donald Trump’s various Executive Orders that broke out across the country in the week gone by. The presenter, Dmitri Kiselyov, is also the head of all news reporting on Russian state radio and television, so his giving his seal of approval to the talks between the two presidents as harbinger of good things to come carried a lot of weight.

However, the more telling ‘thumbs up’ evaluation of the telecom came on the next featured program of the Rossiya-1/Vesti-24 channel, Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, which has a deserved reputation as the most serious political talk show in the country. It was posted on youtube.com immediately after airing on nationwide television and within 12 hours had received more than 280,000 views, which is a fair indication of its popularity with Russia’s chattering classes (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IJ0wQ8qDk_Y ).

The Vladimir Soloviev show is important precisely because of the array of panelists having their own power bases and contributing what was complementary but clearly defined and individualistic appreciations of why the conversation between the presidents was so promising. Among the panelists and the first to speak was Vyacheslav Nikonov, who as the grandson of Molotov may be called hereditary Soviet aristocracy; he is also chairman of the Duma’s Committee on Education; member of the top governing body of United Russia, chairman of the Board of Russky Mir, the NGO supporting Russian culture and the Russian diaspora abroad.   Second in the pecking order was Aleksei Pushkov, Chairman of the Commission on Information Policy in the Federation Council and from 2011 to 2016 Chairman of the Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs. Other notables included Oleg Morozov, Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council;  Andrei Sidorov, Head of the World Politics Department, Moscow State University; and Sergei Stankevich, head of the  International Contacts section in the center-right Party of Growth (Boris Titov).

The boys did their homework both in historical comparisons and in parsing texts of the press releases. They came to the show well prepared. Their comments are worth reading at length, and at the end of this brief essay, I attach a verbatim record of their principal remarks in English translation.

Another noteworthy aspect of the program and of the positive view presented on prospects for collaboration with Donald Trump’s America is that it unfolded under the direction of the great Trump-skeptic, Vladimir Soloviev himself.

 

As I know from talking to him on the sidelines of one of his broadcasts in September, 2016 in which I took part, Soloviev was no fan of Trump before the US elections and preferred to see Hillary win on the logic that it’s better to deal with the devil you know.  In Trump he saw only unpredictability, volatility. He assured me that Trump’s pro-Russian statements were purely pre-election rhetoric which he would betray the day after taking office. In later broadcasts, after Trump’s election on November 8th, Soloviev was one of those who remained guarded, arguing that this businessman would hardly succeed in implementing his promises over the opposition of the Deep State.  Now it would appear that Soloviev himself is less leery and more hopeful. In a word, with one phone call Donald Trump has set the stage for serious negotiations and, possibly, substantive “deals” with the Russian leadership at their eventual summit.


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