As a Slavic Studies major whose thesis paper concerned Russian President Vladimir Putin’s utilization of voting to pacify his people and subvert democratic mechanisms, I hope you’ll grant me a bit of higher ground on this argument.
CIA reports show that Putin’s administration has meddled in the 2016 US presidential election, which resulted in the election of Donald Trump. In response, President Obama has instituted new sanctions and pledged to undertake certain covert operations (probably cyber in nature). Putin, however, has merely shrugged off Obama’s actions because president-elect Donald Trump has praised Putin consistently and called Russian intervention in the election ridiculous. It is important to note that Donald Trump has called Russian intervention ridiculous prior to intelligence briefing, so it is both possible and extraordinarily likely Trump will change his mind in the coming weeks.
Regardless, who can blame Trump for denying Russian intervention? If Trump delegitimizes the election, he delegitimizes himself as president. It’s only fair that Trump deny what the CIA highly believes is the truth. Yet, if he is to follow along this line of rhetoric, is it wise that President Trump remove sanctions from Russia?
New leadership has always been a chance for restoration in relations. A Trump administration that removes sanctions from Russia would certainly ease tensions and perhaps allow for more unilateral attacks on ISIS, healthier trade, and easier flow of action and information between countries. Such conditions are especially beneficial to Russia whose economy has plummeted as a result of the sanctions. Surely it’s no wonder Putin supports Trump then. But the US does certainly benefit as well. The success of one nation does not have to come at cost of another.
Even so, it’s important to remember why these sanctions have been placed on Russia in the first place. Sanctions punish Russia for not abiding by democratic norms established here in the West. Punishment is especially necessary when Russia’s actions affect other countries like Ukraine in 2014 and the US now. Certainly we have no right to call ourselves the perfect model of democracy, but we have the right to act autonomously. Violation of this right has repercussions. Trump should not forget this.
Thus, I do not find it particularly bad that Trump wipes clean the slate of sour relations between the US and Russia. I only hope the next time Putin acts contrary to our established norms, Trump defends our ideals and condemns Putin’s actions. Anything else would indirectly approve of Russia’s course of action and in no way should we approve of the manipulation of democracy.