The US is going to have a much different and probably more incoherent policy towards Russia. The signs we’ve seen so far is that there’s a divide between new figures in the cabinet who are warming to Russia and some others, plus Congress, who take a more hawkish view.
You have, in Donald Trump and in his national security adviser and his Secretary of State Michael Flynn and Rex Tillerson respectively, three people at the highest levels of US diplomacy and national security who are more positively disposed towards Vladimir Putin and his definition of Russia's national interest than anyone has been in American foreign policy since World War II.
"I suspect what we shall see from the beginning of the Trump presidency is more diplomatic overtures from the US to Russia, and the lifting of some of the restrictions which the executive branch has imposed on Moscow."
Michael Flynn is the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. He was an adviser to Donald Trump during his campaign to be nominated as Republican Presidential candidate and has described Trump to the press as a “serious guy and a good listener”. Michael Flynn also claims to be the first US officer to have visited the headquarters of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Agency, the GRU.
Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil chief executive, has strong ties to Russia’s political and business elite. One Russian political commentator [Sergei Markov, a pro-Kremlin writer and broadcaster] told the Wall Street Journal that Tillerson was a “Christmas gift” from America to Russia. Rex Tillerson first met Vladimir Putin nearly twenty years ago and the pair have met several times since, both formally and informally. There’s been quite a bit of speculation that Tillerson will pull back from any criticism of Russia’s human rights record.
But by the same token you also have a Congress which, to a large extent, is fairly critical of Russia. Plus we now have a secretary of defense in James Mattis who has been generally quite hawkish towards Russia. Mattis served in the US Armed forces for more than three decades. In the past it’s been claimed that he’s described Russia’s military moves against its neighbours, such as taking Crimea and backing separatists in Ukraine as being “much more severe and much more serious” than Washington and the European Union estimate them to be.
So I suspect what we shall see from the beginning of the Trump presidency is more diplomatic overtures from the US to Russia, and the lifting of some of the restrictions which the Executive Branch has imposed on Moscow. But we’ll also see a counterbalance in the form of some degree of maintenance of sanctions which are in the control of Congress and we could probably also see a military presence which seeks to keep a check on Russia even as political pressure is lifted.