In what many commentators are calling one of the most heated elections in the nation’s history, one issue remains cold: Russia.
United States relations with Russia are reminiscent of Cold War tensions, said Regina Smyth, associate professor of political science.
She said both major party candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, are not good choices when it comes to their stances toward Russia.
“On the one hand, Mrs. Clinton seems focused on escalating tensions,” Smyth said. “On the other hand, Mr. Trump seems focused on appeasement.”
Smyth believes the path going forward will be difficult no matter what the outcome of the election is.
“Mrs. Clinton has had a formal diplomatic relationship with Putin that has been tense and difficult,” Smyth said.
Despite these tensions, Lee Feinstein, dean for the School of Global and International Studies and former U.S. ambassador to Poland, showed some optimism about Clinton’s ties with Russia.
“It’s important to understand one could have a very clear idea or politic view while still finding areas of cooperation open and possible,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein said President Obama demonstrated this with his clarity and principled disagreements in negotiations with Russia and Iran.
“Secretary Clinton’s views are very much in the mainstream of American public opinion,” Feinstein said.
Clinton’s clear-eyed views of Putin’s policies and how they fit into American policy would be continuations of those of Obama’s administration, Feinstein said.
In contrast to Clinton, Trump is perceived as friendly to Russia and the perceived ties of Trump to Russia have raised concerns from the American public, Smyth said.
Feinstein said Trump seems to have an accommodationist view when working with a strongman like Putin.
“This is really unusual and surprising in American politics, that a major U.S. candidate is friendly to an authoritarian leader who preys into the borders of neighboring states,” Feinstein said.
Trump’s previous campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned after facing criticism for his ties to former Ukrainian prime minister Viktor Yanukovych.
Between the polarizing perceptions of the candidates on Russia, Smyth said Putin has worked to make the election appear chaotic — that all campaigns appear corrupt and there are no viable options.
“A sensible strategy to attain a working relationship with Putin hasn’t been laid out yet,” Smyth said.
Smyth said the public should be concerned about email-hacking by Russians, Smyth said.
“They’re compromising national security systems, and they could be developing routes into other cyberattacks,” Smyth said.
Smyth said Putin has tried to build his position in the world through chaos and disorder.
“I think that with the email issue, you have two U.S. government agencies saying that Russia was responsible for the hacks,” Feinstein said. “That’s a pretty clear indication Russia’s been involved.
It’s hard to know why Russia has done these hacks, though, Feinstein said,
“There’s been an arrest of a Russian who the U.S. believes is personally involved in this in the Czech Republic,” Feinstein said. “The government is trying to follow who’s involved.”
The U.S.’s relations with Russia — including Putin’s endorsement of Trump and the email-hacking allegations — might normally seem like big issues, but Smyth said the public surprisingly doesn’t care.
Feinstein hopes the public will better understand the U.S.-Russia relations with respect to these issues.
“On the whole, what’s interesting about all of this is that Americans don’t seem to care one bit about any of this,” Smyth said.
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