By Jackie Olson
When America elected a new president on November 8th, we were not only choosing the next president, but also deciding a business deal, one that even state officials in Moscow would have a hard time making. While unable to change Putin (he is here to stay) America did, in some ways, decide if she wants to see a newly-constructed Trump Tower on a street in Moscow, along with a new style of Russian-American relations.
Since the 1980s, Trump has made numerous business deals and created financial ties to Russia. In addition, Trump wants to build a Trump Tower in Russia’s capital, but he has been snubbed at each turn. His latest attempt, during the Moscow-hosted Miss Universe Pageant in 2013, left him close to a deal with Aras Agalarov, a friend of Putin often dubbed Russian-‘Trump’, but it was halted. This close success also coincided with a failed invitation to Putin to attend the pageant. While ultimately unsuccessful from a business and political perspective, the event seems to have heavily influenced Trump’s favorable opinion of Putin’s Russia, despite growing criticism from the US government.
Though Trump was not important to him prior to the election, his clear desire for business ties and willingness to respect Putin makes Trump by far the better candidate, in the eyes of Russia, for President of the United States. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, is a threat. She is an outspoken woman who takes a strong liberal-democratic stance on foreign affairs and was not going to revoke her talks of a “no-fly” zone over Syria anytime soon, let alone formally recognize Crimea as a part of Russia, something that Trump has supported several times this fall.
In 2011, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State at the time, was blamed riots in Moscow, when people took to the streets in near-zero temperatures to protest the supposed ‘rigged’ re-re-election of Putin. Putin lamented Clinton’s interventionist messages, especially when she proclaimed, “the Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve free, fair, transparent elections.” Putin since then has made it his goal to openly condemn Clinton, the results of which have been seen this election season. Russian media has portrayed Clinton in a negative manner by continuously playing footage of her coughing on state television and reminding Russians of her botched “reset” attempt of relations in 2009, yet the fact that Trump has a 28% higher approval rating than Clinton in Russia does not mean much to any legitimate poll, Russia did not elect our president.
Regardless of America’s choice in candidates, nothing will change. America has put so much emphasis on the Putin state, that Russia is becoming a relic of the past, a trigger word for individuals born in the 1970s-1980s who only know of it as the Federation presided over by Yeltsin. Even Hillary Clinton has separated “Putin” from “Russia,” declaring in 2015 that the U.S. “needs a concerted effort to really up the costs on Russia and in particular Putin.”
American policy has increasingly isolated Russian policy from Putin’s policy, which is entirely problematic for the mentality in solving overseas tensions. Indeed while Putin has turned relations sour, even this year, Russia itself pulled out of the Plutonium Disposition Agreement and did not participate in President Obama’s Nuclear Security Summit talks. Yet if America stops focusing on Putin’s physical appearance, such as his infamous shirtless photos, and his banter about the American election, and considers the true Russian state, it would be beneficial to not only our understanding of their increasingly aggressive foreign policy, but the faults within Russia’s domestic conditions.
Since 2014, Russia has been facing a harsh recession from the fall in the price of oil and from economic sanctions. The economy has not grown for six straight quarters and real wages have dropped by 10%. While minimum wage has increased by 20% and Putin cut his own salary by 10%, the IMF projects the Russian economy will shrink by another 1.2% by the end of this year before a projected growth period.
During this predicted growth period, America should be fully ready to grasp and acknowledge the threat Russian corporations, not Putin, will serve to the United States security. For example, 2013, Rosatom, a Russian corporation, took over Uranium One Inc., a corporation in Canada, giving them direct control of 20% of all American uranium. Ironically, investigations found that from 2006-2011 over 40 million dollars from U1 advisors and associates was donated to the Clinton Foundation, a potential cause for concern as Clinton was Secretary of State at the time of the deal. Yet while Clinton did not become the president-elect, Russian corporations such as aggressive Rosatom, a state-run “non-profit” business out of Moscow will be more than eager to use the cover of ‘friendly’ Putin-Trump relations to garner a larger acquisition of natural resources, indirectly making the U.S. weaker as an international force.
Yet, our obsession with Putin and consequently his banter with Trump, is just a distraction from the real issue; Russia is going to rebound and with that in need of natural resources to grow its previously stagnating economy. The U.S. needs to realize that Russia is not just Putin and the threat is truly derived from economics. The more willing the U.S. is in understanding the country’s issues than the man in power, the better the country will be in tackling her ultimate foe, one that has arguably been brought down before through economics.