2017-02-22-TrumpMcMaster-1024x298Calquera que sexan as súas relacións persoais en Rusia, Donald Trump cubriu agora os postos clave de seguridade nacional dos Estados Unidos con persoas que entenden os perigos do achegamento nos termos de Moscova, escribe Keir Giles.

O nomeamento do tenente xeral HR McMaster como conselleiro de seguridade nacional segue unha semana de fortes mensaxes entregadas a Rusia, incluídas as conversacións cara a cara. Mentres a administración estadounidense loita contra as acusacións de influencia rusa no seu país, tres dos seus máis altos funcionarios estiveron no estranxeiro enviando mensaxes firmes directamente a Moscova.

O secretario de Estado estadounidense Rex Tillerson sabe por experiencia o que é efectivo e o que non está en negociacións con Rusia e destacou a defensa dos intereses estadounidenses antes da súa reunión co ministro de Asuntos Exteriores ruso, Sergei Lavrov. O secretario de Defensa, James Mattis, falou na OTAN da necesidade de negociar con Rusia "desde unha posición de forza" e para que Rusia se "demostre". Pouco despois, o xeneral Joe Dunford, presidente dos xefes de persoal conxuntos, coñeceu ao seu número oposto ruso Valeriy Gerasimov en Azerbaiyán e botou auga fría sobre esperanzas rusas para unha maior cooperación entre os militares dos dous países.

Taken together, messaging like this is at odds both with Donald Trump’s own commentaries on the relationship with Russia and with previous administrations. If senior US figures continue to enjoy leeway to speak plainly to Moscow and approach the Russia problem with realism rather than optimism, this gives cause for guarded hope that the relationship may be better managed than during the Obama period. This would hearten most Russia experts among the US policy community, who after years of the Obama administration ignoring advice on Russia for fear of upsetting Moscow were faced with the prospect of a new administration ignoring it because it seemed intent on implementing Russia’s policy choices for the United States. And reducing the likelihood of un gran negocio entre Trump e Putin pola cabeza de Europa só pode ser unha boa noticia para a seguridade tanto dos Estados Unidos como dos seus aliados.

It remains to be seen how far a pragmatic Russia policy can be pursued if it does not coincide with Trump’s own views. When the BBC news website files news of US cabinet appointments under ‘Russia’, it recognizes the extent to which the relationship with Moscow – both above and below the surface – is pivotal to the future of this administration, through the person of Trump himself. But after last week’s messages from Trump’s most senior appointees, Russia’s confidence that his administration could be even easier to manipulate than its predecessor may have been dented. If so, it would explain last week’s sudden and dramatic change in tone in Russian media coverage of Trump and his administration.

The Kremlin will have seen the arrival of Trump as heralding a weakening of US power and influence around the world. This would be achieved in any case if Trump continued a state of open hostilities with his own national security apparatus. Thus the appointment of McMaster is also cause for qualified relief. He arrives in the post with none of his predecessor Michael Flynn’s baggage – of both a suspect relationship with Moscow and a toxic relationship with the US’s own intelligence services. But it remains to be seen if he will be allowed to exert sufficient influence through the National Security Council to bring his undoubted talents to bear.

Last week’s opening gambits by Trump’s appointees must be followed up with consistency. Russia’s subsequent announcement that it would recognize ‘passports’ issued by the Russian-backed separatist entities in eastern Ukraine could be one test of the new US approach. The move drew condemnation from France and Germany, the other two signatories to the Minsk peace accords, but a muted response from the United States. This could either indicate acceptance by the US, or a lack of capacity to deal with it while senior diplomatic and security posts are still in turmoil and a common approach to Russia is still to be determined. Either way, it will encourage Moscow to see where else boundaries can be pushed.