Assistant Head, US and the Americas Programme

US policy towards Russia is liable to shift noticeably after the election. Whether that is a subtle realignment or a massive shift is less a question of Republican versus Democrat than of Trump versus everyone else.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry on 15 December 2015 in Moscow. Photo via Getty Images.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry on 15 December 2015 in Moscow. Photo via Getty Images.

Managing the United States’ relationship with Russia will continue to be one of the major geopolitical challenges for its leadership. The next president must be able to work towards vital national and global interests while the Russian government will likely remain determined to challenge basic tenets of the world order. This election note examines the strategies propounded by the major candidates of the two parties in this context. 

  • The United States’ relations with Russia are extremely poor at the moment, driven by divergent views of the world order and by different priorities in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and on some global issues such as nuclear non-proliferation.
  • The major area of strategic contestation for the United States and Russia is Europe, which has significant implications for the Middle East (especially Iran and Syria) as well.
  • Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders propose varying approaches for a long-term American strategy of containing Russia. Donald Trump would take US policy in a completely different direction, which could cede to Russia a huge degree of influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
  • As president, Cruz or Clinton would build up the American military presence in Europe in order to deter Russia, Sanders would prioritize diplomatic approaches to containment, while Trump would seek to pull back significantly.
  • Were Ted Cruz to follow through with his pledge to restore US sanctions on Iran, it would drive a wedge between the United States and its Western European allies, which Russia could capitalize upon.