During his campaign for presidency, Donald Trump proposed a more positive shift in U.S. relations with Russia, following years of complex political tension. However, the Trump administration’s potential business interests may influence the already uncertain relationship between the United States and Russia.
During Trump’s second week in office, Vice President Mike Pence alluded to the possibility of the White House lifting sanctions against Russia in the coming months. The sanctions, implemented largely in response to the Crimean crisis during the Obama administration, have had tremendous consequences on Russia’s economic, technological and militaristic outlooks — as well as negative consequences for U.S. companies looking to broker deals abroad.
Although the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, took advantage of her first appearance in the chamber to deliver a hawkish speech against Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine, many can’t help but doubt the presence of full executive concurrence. This ambiguity is especially strong in light of President Trump’s apparent intention to form a more amicable relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The personal benefits that Trump and his cabinet members alike would enjoy from such a diplomatic partnership also raise questions about the Trump administration’s full support of Nikki Haley’s speech.
While the White House has cited joint efforts against the Islamic State as the primary motivation behind a closer relationship with Russia, it is impossible to disregard the millions of dollars that Exxon Mobile, and, by extension, Former CEO turned Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would have to gain from lifting the sanctions, which have lost the company up to $1 billion since Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Tillerson reportedly proposed maintaining “the status quo” in regards to the pre-existing sanctions against Russia, though he has consistently refused to offer his support for the additional sanctions President Obama already authorized, instead shifting conversation to the need to engage with Russia through alternative means.
Oil, along with other business and economic ventures, may continue to shape the diplomatic ties at the foundation of the global order. While the new administration is clearly more in favor of positive relations between the United States and Russia than its predecessor, only time will tell if we are headed toward a future of true political and economic alliance with the Kremlin.
Elizabeth Strack is a junior majoring in political science and English literature.
Featured image courtesy Flickr user Bryan Jones