The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday December 7th

Q&A with a political science professor on U.S.-Russia relations

After a joint report by American intelligence agencies revealed Russian interference in the presidential election, President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats. Robert Jenkins, a senior lecturer in the department of political science and former director of the Center for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies, discussed U.S.-Russian relations with staff writer Ari Sen.

The Daily Tar Heel: How do you expect the relationship between the U.S. and Russia to change?

Robert Jenkins: Well, certainly it appears that the relationship between the president-elect and President Putin will improve compared to the relationship (with Obama) ... You can see that in the current debate over the intelligence community’s findings over Russian involvement in hacking and releasing information during the election campaign. On that, we think of the government as being not just the president but a series of other apparatuses and administrative organs ... What I see with the president-elect is that his way of approaching foreign relations is to treat them much like a business transaction, where deals can be made over any particular issue, but whether that leads to a permanent alliance is a much different question. And that’s not typically the way the U.S. foreign policy with Russia has been made.

DTH: Do you think the Russians clearly favored Trump in the election?

RJ: I think what they favor first and foremost is uncertainty and ability to wield influence, and so during the election it created great uncertainty and that was a goal realized. So far, it looks like they will realize their goal of influence as well. The president-elect is nominating for secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who is a longtime executive at Exxon Mobil, which has a history of business relationships with the Russian oil industry, which is dominated by the government and by the friends of Putin.

DTH: Has there ever been a president that has been as sympathetic to the Russians as Trump appears to be?

RJ: With the president-elect, it’s really hard to figure out what exactly he holds firmly. And he’s clearly been on record saying he admires President Putin, and he admires the system in which a kind of heavy hand works. So from that standpoint, he’s probably the least traditional of the anti-Russian leaders we’ve ever had ... I don’t see the president-elect as being in the pocket of Putin by any means, but I also don’t find him to be very sophisticated and very balanced in his approach ... His inconsistency is consistency.

DTH: Did President Obama’s decision to expel 35 Russian diplomats have any effect on Putin?

RJ: No. Expulsion of diplomats rarely has any impact, but it’s a symbolic practice that many governments take when they are confronted with evidence of espionage and have to take action. Perhaps what’s a bit unusual about this recent episode is the number—it’s usually counted on one hand or two hands, not in the level of 35 ... Putin knows how to play these situational political games quite well, and he’s been around now for 17 years ... It’s a bit like Tom Brady going up against the rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl. You’re going to give the advantage to Brady because there is not much he hasn’t seen or had a handle on, whereas the rookie is going to make mistakes and get flustered.


The Daily Tar Heel's 2022 Year in Review

Special Print Edition

Games & Horoscopes

Print Edition Games Archive