MOSCOW -- Donald Trump said during his election campaign he wanted to improve relations between the US and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. But a year on from his inauguration, ties between Washington and Moscow are at Cold War lows.
As American investigators continue to probe Russian involvement in Trump’s shock 2016 election victory over Hillary Clinton, Moscow talks of the US president as a hostage to internal political struggles who is unable to improve ties.
“Russian-American relations deserve better, our people deserve better,” the Russian Foreign Ministry’s spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP.
“We were always in favour of developing bilateral relations regardless what president came to power in the US,” she said.
Tensions between Washington and Moscow have continued to grow despite the promises of the then Republican candidate and his early nomination of Rex Tillerson — who has personal ties to Putin — to Secretary of State.
The Cold War rivals have clashed over crises in Ukraine, Syria and Iran, with reciprocal expulsions of diplomats last year.
Following Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the war between Kiev and Kremlin-backed rebels, the US has imposed ever stricter sanctions on Moscow.
In his diplomatic roundup of 2017 on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeatedly attacked the US on virtually all topics, suggesting a disappointment in the new president.
“Unfortunately the actions of the current administration are in line of Obama’s, despite the line of president Trump during his election campaign. In certain areas, they are even more assertive,” Lavrov said at an annual press conference.
After accusing the Obama administration of deliberately destroying Russian-American relations, Moscow had “big hopes” the election of Trump would improve the relationship, according to Russian analyst Ivan Kurilla.
“There is an impression that the Russian elite continues to believe the Trump administration does not want full confrontation with Russia and a hope for improvement remains,” Kurilla, of the European University in Saint Petersburg, told AFP. “If not this year, then the next,” he added.
Vladimir Vassilyev, a researcher at the Institute for US and Canadian Studies in Moscow, said there is a “paradox” in the current state of ties between the two countries.
“The leaders of the two countries have called for an improvement of relations, but they are only degrading,” Vassilyev told AFP.
While Moscow waits for ties to improve, a year of Trump in the White House has been marked by a series of new sanctions over alleged interference in the US presidential election, on top of its actions in Ukraine.
Zakharova describes an “anti-Russian hysteria” in the US, blaming this on the “same people who played the anti-Russian card during the election campaign of Hillary Clinton, who have not been able to accept the defeat of their candidate”.
Zakharova insists that supporting candidate Trump was never the “official Russian position,” even if Trump was considered friendly to Moscow and Vladimir Putin praised his personal qualities publicly.
“This is the American president, elected by the American people. This has nothing to do with Russia,” she said.