Dimitri Alexander Simes
While no one in Moscow expects a miraculous turnaround in U.S.-Russian relations after this summit, there is a genuine hope that some modest progress can be made.
On Monday, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet in Helsinki. Among the Russian foreign policy elite, there is a sense of cautious optimism about the summit. Despite a clear understanding of the current obstacle to improved relations between Washington and Moscow, many believe that the two presidents can find a way to begin easing tensions. To gain a sense of Russian expectations, I spoke with a number of leading politicians and academics in Moscow.
In Russia, there is a broad consensus that U.S.-Russian relations are headed in a dangerous downward spiral. “The relationship today between the United States and Russia is at its lowest point since the Caribbean crisis” warns Konstantin Zatulin, who is the First Deputy Chairman of the Duma’s committee for relations with the CIS and Russians nationals abroad and who is one of the nationalist-oriented leaders of Putin’s United Russia party. Zatulin’s concern is echoed by some in the opposition. Maksim Shevchenko, a prominent left wing journalist who was the communist representative in recent presidential television debates and is running for Governor in the Vladimir region near Moscow, explains that “the United States and Russia have stepped too close to each other in the Middle East.” He takes a stark view of any potential Russian concessions to Washington. When I asked him about Trump administration efforts to sway Moscow to help diminish Iranian influence in the Middle East, he responded, “This is impossible, this is a path to war.” He maintained that “without direct talks with Iran, no deal is possible.” According to him, “I personally believe that Russia should not betray Irar. …It is not permissible to adopt a position on the Middle East that only supports Israel.”