With the recent intelligence briefing by the intelligence community for President-elect Donald Trump, once more relations between the U.S. and Russia top the agenda of U.S. foreign policy. In a report leaked to the press, the intelligence community asserted, "Russian efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow's longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity and scope of effort compared to previous operations." Accordingly, this operation was initiated from the very top of the Russian government. The report stated: "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.
Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments." Everybody was curious how this long expected briefing would influence the approach of the president-elect and his policy toward Russia. However, a day after this briefing, Trump returned to tweet and harshly criticized those who have criticized his outreach efforts to Russia. He wrote in a series of tweets: "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only "stupid" people or fools would think that it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am president, Russia will respect us far more than they do now, and both countries will perhaps work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues around the WORLD!"
These recent developments launched a major debate in Washington, D.C. in regards to the future of U.S.-Russian relations. There are a lot of different scenarios provided by observers of bilateral relations between the two countries. Especially personal relations between Trump and Putin are the most frequently asked issue nowadays. Most recently, after the deportation of 35 Russian diplomats by the U.S. administration when Putin did not retaliate in a similar way President-elect Trump tweeted his reaction to this by writing, "Great move on delay (by V. Putin)- I always knew he was very smart!" Thus, the chemistry between the two leaders after Trump assumes office will be very important for the future of bilateral relations.
However it is important to remember that personal diplomacy will not be the only factor shaping U.S.-Russian relations. In the next administration, there will be serious challenges, risks as well as opportunities for both countries. As mentioned in the previous piece, there will be many variables involved in this process. Of course, foreign policy makers and their different approaches to Russia will be one of the most determining factors of bilateral relations. There are hardliners in the administration, such as Secretary of Defense James Mattis, whose approach to Russia differs from that of President Trump. Secretary of State Tillerson, on the other hand, is well known for his close ties with Russia because of the energy deals that he brokered with Rosneft. He is a recipient of the Russian order of Friendship by President Putin. In the immediate aftermath of his appointment, the opinions of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn on Russia have also become a hotly debated issue.
There are several issue areas that will be discussed in the coming months in relation to Russia. The crisis in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia due to this crisis will be........