Russian media roundup: The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency attracted a great deal of attention from the Russian media, as journalists tried to understand the implications of Trump’s moves for Russia and the world.
Pictured: U.S. President Donald Trump (center) together with his wife Melania Trump (right). Photo: Donald Trump's Official facebook page
After Donald Trump assumed the U.S. presidency on Jan. 20, Russian journalists and experts started paying even greater attention to his every move in an attempt to understand his governing style, as well as the implications of his new administration for Russia and the world.
Over the past week, the Russian media discussed Trump’s controversial initiatives on immigration and the strong counter-response from the U.S. establishment. Journalists also covered Trump’s economic initiatives, his telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Jan. 28, and the resignation of some high-profile American officials who protested Trump’s immigration moves.
During the first days of his tenure, Trump signed 17 executive orders, including ones on withdrawing the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), reforming the healthcare system and building the wall on the Mexican border.
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However, one of his most controversial moves involves immigration: It bans Muslim refugees from seven different nations from entering the United States. Trump’s executive order on “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists” imposes a 90-day ban on the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, Syria, Somali and Sudan) from entering the U.S. It also suspends the provision of shelter to refugees, including ones from Syria.
The move brought about a public outcry, with some states overturning Trump’s immigration order. For several days, people have taken to the streets to protest the decision of the U.S. president.
Russian media responded almost immediately to these events in America. RBC Daily published the opinion of a Russian expert, Pavel Demidov, an expert at the Center for Strategic Developments, which is headed by former Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin. The expert argues that Trump sees the political crisis in American as an opportunity, not as a liability or a burden.
Demidov concludes that Trump’s presidential style seeks to maintain or “reproduce” the feeling of a political crisis within the country to mobilize his supporters. If fact, by fueling the crisis, he targets those who voted for him, first and foremost, to justify their expectations. This is what might keep him afloat during the next four years, according to Trump himself.
Demidov argues that the new American president violated all well-established traditions of communication with the Washington establishment and, specifically, the U.S. Congress. All these moves indicate that Trump is going to be aggressive and adopt a no-holds-barred approach. His leadership style is crystal clear and simple: Those who don’t agree with me are against me. And his political overtures mean that he will easily use political influence to impose his point of view on dissenters and seek revenge against his opponents.
Such an approach is very risky, warns Demidov. It provokes the creation of a strong anti-Trump coalition within the establishment, which might restrict him in his political maneuvers.
Meanwhile, business newspaper Kommersant focuses on Trump’s decision to dismiss a number of high-profile government officials — U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates and Daniel Ragsdale, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who reportedly stood up to his immigration moves. At the same time, the newspaper analyzes cables by U.S. diplomats — known as the Dissent Channel — that overtly disapprove of Trump’s immigration moves.
Vedomosti, a Russian business newspaper, focuses on the economic aspects of Trump’s first presidential moves and raises the question of a possible trade war between the U.S. and Mexico. With the Trump administration ready to impose a 20 percent tax on all imported goods from Mexico and use the proceeds to pay for the construction of a wall along the Mexican border, this move might lead to a trade war.
Konstantin Sonin, a contributor to Vedomosti and a professor at the University of Chicago, warns that Trump’s move might backfire economically while bringing no political results. He points to the entire experience of Russia in launching trade wars with its neighbors in the post-Soviet space. Trump’s threats to Mexico to impose a 20 percent tax might turn into a long and protracted trade war that is easy to start, but very difficult to stop, Sonin points out in his column for Vedomosti.
Likewise, Sekret Firmy, a Russian analytical magazine, focuses on the macroeconomic aspects of Trump’s presidency and, in particular, the implications of his plans to turn the U.S. into an energy superpower. The headline of the article is indicative: “Will Donald Trump Dampen Oil Prices?” it reads.
The publication brings together a number of top economists and energy experts to share their forecasts. All of them agree that Trump’s presidency won’t play a critical role in determining the path of global oil prices. For example, Andrei Movchan from Carnegie Moscow Center is hesitant about the likelihood of Trump being able to impact the prices regardless of his plans to increase U.S. oil production and exports. What matters are new and effective technologies and alternative sources of energy, which could produce an impact on oil prices over the long term, not necessarily during Trump’s presidency.
“While the U.S. is increasing its output, there are countries, which will have seen a decrease in oil production by 2022,” Movchan told Sekret Firmy, adding that the share of Russia and other northern countries in producing oil will decline. At the same time, a lot depends on China — whether it will increase consumption or constrain it, said Movchan.
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Many members of the Russian media also paid attention to the telephone call between Trump and Putin. Most of them published the comments of Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who revealed some details of the conversation. He described the telephone call as “good from the political and personal points of view.” The call proves that communication between Russian and American leaders is possible without lecturing.
“They [Putin and Trump] agreed to keep working at the level of the expert community, within their further talks,” he said, as quoted by RBC Daily. He also pointed out that Moscow and Washington will have to understand to what extent “joint interests” might be translated into “joint mechanisms for resolving problems.”
Sergey Markedonov, an associate professor at Russian State University for the Humanities, who recently returned from Washington, on the political environment in the U.S. after Trump assumed the presidency:
The political environment in Washington is very interesting. It looks like a case of déjà vu to me - it resembles the environment in the Soviet Union during its political decline and crisis. Experts [and establishment politicians] are frustrated and lost, because the political order and the rules that they are accustomed to have been violated. The new rules of the game are unclear and, therefore, frightening.
The communication between experts is more emotional in its nature rather than driven by robust expertise and detached analysis. Instead of taking to the streets, one should understand one’s own mistakes and learn lessons from the failure to figure out why a populist such as Donald Trump came to power. Unfortunately, emotions so far overshadow hard analysis.