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MEMRI

During his January 11 confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rex Tillerson, Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State was frequently asked about his views on Russia. Tillerson’s comments may justify those in Russia who warned against uncorking the champagne bottles too early following Trump’s victory.:

  • “While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded America’s interest.”
  • “We must also be clear eyed about our relationship with Russia. Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded the Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea. And supported Syrian forces that brutally violates the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at resurgent Russia. But it was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent. We backtracked on commitments we made to allies, we sent weak or mixed signals with red lines that turned into green lights. We did not recognize that Russia did not — does not think like we do.”
  • “Words alone do now sweep away an uneven and at times contentious history between our two nations. But we need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambitions so we know how to chart our own course. For a cooperation with Russia based on common interest as possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interest of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.”
  • “Well, Russia, more than anything wants to reestablish its role in the global world order. They have a view that following the breakup of the Soviet Union, they were mistreated in some respects in the transition period. They believe they deserve a rightful role in the global world order because they are nuclear power. And their searching is to how to establish that.

“And for most of the past 20 plus years since the demise of the Soviet Union, they were not in a position to assert that. They have spent all of these years developing the capability to do that and I think that’s now what we are witnessing, is an assertion on their part in order to force a conversation about what is Russia’s role in the global world order. And so the steps being taken are simply to make that point that Russia is here, Russia matters and we’re a force to be dealt with and that is a fairly predictable course of action they are taking.”

  • “I think the important conversation that we have to have with them is — does Russia want to now and forever be an adversary of the United States? Do you want this to get worse or does Russia desire a different relationship. We’re not likely to ever be friends. I think as others have noted our value systems are starkly different. We do not hold the same values. But I also know the Russian people, because of having spent so many years in Russia. There is scope to define a different relationship that can bring down the temperature around the conflicts we have today.”[1]

Tillerson’s remarks did not go unnoticed in Russia. Several Russia law makers stated that Tillerson’s rhetoric matched the U.S. Senators’ stance toward Russia, but they still believe that Tillerson will keep open the opportunity to improve Russian-American relations. The reactions also refer to President-elect Donald Trump’s recent comment that Russia was behind the DNC hacking. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” conceded Trump during his January 11, 2017 press conference.[2]

 

Below are official Russian reactions to Tillerson’s confirmation hearing:
Rex Tillerson (Source: Sputniknews.com)

Chairman Of Duma Foreign Policy Committee: ‘Statements Made By Tillerson Were… Aimed At Pleasing That Audience’

Leonid Slutsky, the chairman of the State Duma foreign policy committee, said: “I’d rather refrain from assessing the declarations that Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson have made on Russia as the ones that determine the Russian vector of the incoming Administration’s foreign policy. He then added: “Tillerson appeared at the hearings in the Senate where the approval of his candidacy for the top post at the Department of State is to take place and the latest events show the strength of anti-Russian sentiments among Senate Democrats and Republicans alike. That’s why the statements made by Tillerson were, most probably, aimed at pleasing that audience.”[3] Slutsky also noted that Tillerson doesn’t deny that dialogue with Moscow is essential. “Despite the tough rhetoric, this leaves an opportunity for restoring  the constructive aspects of the Russian-American relationship,” Slutsky stated.[4]

In a tweet, Senator Aleksey Pushkov also assessed: “The Congressional Hearing demonstrated that the relations with Trump’s administration won’t be easy, but a window of opportunities exists. It’s important to make use of it.”[5]

(Source: Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, January 13, 2017)

Mikhail Emelyanov, first deputy head of the Just Russia party faction in the Russian Duma, said: “It’s obvious that Tillerson has to maneuver more energetically than (President-elect Donald Trump, since he was replying to questions concerning his appointment to the post. The mood of American Congressmen is also obvious – if Tillerson had taken another position they simply may not have approved him for thepost . I think we should not draw long perspective conclusions based on public statements by Tillerson or Trump. There should be no euphoria about them, but they still retain the desire to improve the relations with Russia –this at least is momentarily beyond doubt.”[6]

Alexander Mikhailenko, professor of the Department for Russia’s Foreign Policy of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy, said: “It is necessary to understand the essence of the event, Tillerson had to go through these hearings to assume the position of Secretary of State. So, I think that in this situation any politician would have refrained from saying contradictory things. He said what they wanted to hear from him — usual mantras of the current U.S. [foreign] policy… But I do not think that this will be his policy.”[7]

Valery Garbuzov, head of the Moscow-based Institute for US and Canadian Studies: “Tillerson’s candidacy is the perhaps the most controversial of all the cabinet nominees. Its passage through the Senate is a highly complicated process. There,one cannot expect him to deliver pro-Russian speeches, especially in the Senate. My understanding is that his pronouncements are connected with the tactics that he had to adopt. On the one hand he supports a review of Russian-American relations since he’s a pragmatic person, who had some business interests in Russia, while on the other hand this is a man, who becomes a statesman, and this is another element. He ought to speak a different language, but this definitely does not mean that his work in the position of Secretary of State will be in the same vein.”[8]

Senator Klimov: ‘It’s Hard To Expect From People Waiting For Their Appointment To Shout Long Live The Kremlin’

Senator Andrey Klimov, first deputy chair of the Federation Council’s international affairs committee: “A routine political spat is underway in Washington. It’s hard to expect people waiting for their appointment to shout ‘Long live the Kremlin’ from morning to evening in such an anti-Russian atmosphere. Let them safely pass the inauguration, let them to confirm all the nominees, let them sign first executive orders – then perhaps we might venture a guess on their future possible conduct. We do count on their realistic approach – they won’t lift the sanctions on the next day, but they will at least begin an equitable dialogue on a mutually profitable basis.”[9]

Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee for International Affairs said: “No one expects Trump’s team to radically change the U.S. policy towards any matter on which we don’t agree. But we expect them to be more pragmatic and try to come to terms with Russia.” He then added: “Russia and the U.S. have many fields where the two countries could cooperate; their number is far more than the number of issues we view differently.”[10]

Senator Franz Klintsevich, deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s defense and security committee, said: “Obviously, such remarks do not add optimism, but we customarily react to concrete policy and not words. Tillerson could be given a little slack because he wanted to get confirmed. Klintsevich added: “In principle, we do not see any ground for changing our international policy or weakening our efforts in guaranteeing our own security.”[11]

Zakharova: ‘We Are Not Assuming That It Will Be Easy’

Responding to a question on Tillerson’s statements, Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said during her weekly briefing that Moscow does not expect Russia-U.S. to be easy under the new Trump administration. Zakharova explained that the improvement of US-Russia relations will depend on the approach chosen “to resolve complex issues”. She explained that the outgoing Obama administration created “a complete fiasco on many issues,” because instead of resolving complicated issues, it preferred turning simple issues into problematic ones. Zakharova stated: “Politics is a complicated matter, especially in the United States. Last year we watched election battles destroy the last vestiges of morals that politicians had. Everything in due time. Relevant appointments will be made and we will work with our colleagues. We have worked differently with different partners. Therefore, we will pay attention to the words and actions of the Secretary of State and other officials.

“Besides, we are not assuming that it will be easy. Let me repeat that probably those who are oversimplifying Russian-US relations think this is how it will be. But people that are familiar with Moscow-Washington relations have no doubt that there is a large number of issues on which we have different views and there are some on which they coincide. We have some common interests and sometimes we have common goals.

“We do not think it will be easy. We believe much depends on the approach chosen to resolve these complex issues: Will it be aimed at goal-oriented, pragmatic and constructive dialogue, or will efforts to resolve even the simplest questions be rejected? What we have witnessed for many years, especially in the last three or four years, did not amount to a refusal to resolve issues but changed normal topics of our relations into problematic ones, and turned the working atmosphere into a negative one on a large scale. It is unclear why this was done.

“Today, I saw in social media an interview given by US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power to the Al Arabiya Bureau chief in New York, in which she explains why the world has failed Syria. However, the previous US administration is not the whole world. If the US has failed Syria, be straight about it. It is necessary to make an honest analysis of why this happened.

“Even now the US administration does not want to analyze its successes and failures. We are witnessing a propaganda push, claiming they achieved everything, that they are the best and exceptional, whereas others may analyze whatever they want since the US is powerful enough to change everything. This is what we are witnessing. Meanwhile, what is required is a specific analysis of why this happened. We haven’t seen it.

“The question is whether the approach will be based on ideology, as was the case with the outgoing administration. This looked a bit like the dictate of one ideology and not only within one state – attempts were made to spread it to other countries. This is strange for a democratic country with a democratic history and a democratic foundation. This is a dead end. The most important thing is to be able to prove it, not just say so. “The Obama administration created a complete fiasco on many issues it sought to resolve, no matter what they say or what farewell tweets they write. Again, it’s been a complete fiasco. They took up the Arab Spring. Representatives of the Arab media are here, talk to them and they will tell you (although you don’t need to, you have your own correspondents there) how the Arab Spring ended, and how much suffering and grief it caused. They took up Libya. I don’t even want to talk about what is going on in Libya now and how much time is required to just get started putting that country back together. They attempted to complete the Iraq saga.  We comment on the developments in Iraq every day and you know what is happening there.

“Eventually, having failed to resolve any of the previous problems, they turned their eyes to Syria. However, essentially nothing has been happening there in the past few months except the insane decision to supply portable anti-aircraft missiles there. Not only Russia but also other states are trying to create a negotiating mechanism in Astana between the Syrian Government and the armed opposition forces. This is fine, precise work. At the peak of this work, when a document on a ceasefire is in the pipeline, US President Barack Obama makes a decision to send portable anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. This testifies to the vengeful nature of this ideology and shows that its authors failed to create even a semblance of a constructive approach. Not only did they fail to achieve anything but they will also take revenge. This is insane. As soon as the first signs of extinguishing the fire appear, they start throwing fuel onto it. This is not the only country where the outgoing US administration is acting in this manner.The question lies in the approach: either we are resolving complicated issues or we are turning simple issues into problematic ones.”[12]

Tillerson’s Statement On Crimea – Senator Pushkov: ‘Nothing Can Be Altered– But Lots Of Things Can Be Ruined’

Commenting Tillerson’s remark on Crimea, Presidential spokesperson Dmitri Peskovsaid: “This is his position. We have taken note. Of course, the Russian side will patiently explain the essence of the matter… Of course, we do not agree with such formulations but we’ll continue to explain our position in a reasoned fashion”.[13]

Senator Aleksey Pushkov wrote in his Twitter account: “The issue of Crimea should not have an impact on the new administration’s cooperation with Moscow, regarding the important questions of world policy. Nothing can be altered [concerning Crimea] – but lots of things can be ruined.”[14]
Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, January 12, 2017

Andrey Fenenko, a leading researcher at the Russian Academy of Science’s Institute of International Security Problems downplayed Tillerson’s remarks about recognizing Crimea as a part of Russia: “This is merely a figure of speech, since Tillerson understands perfectly that neither we, nor Ukraine will renounce claims to Crimea in the foreseeable historical period.”[15]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] See Transcript of Rex Tillerson Confirmation Hearing Part I; See Senate Hearing on Secretary of State Nominee Rex Tillerson.

[2] See Transcript of President-elect Trump’s news conference.

[3] Tass.com, January 12, 2017.

[4] Tass.com, January 12, 2017.

[5] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, January 13, 2017.

[6] Ria.ru, January 11, 2017.

[7] Sputniknews.com, January 12, 2017.

[8] Ria.ru, January 11, 2017.

[9] Kommesanr.ru, January 12, 2017.

[10] Tass.com, January 13, 2017.

[11] Ria.ru, January 11, 2017.

[12] Mid.ru, January 12, 2017.

[13] Ria.ru, January 12, 2017.

[14] Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, January 12, 2017.

[15] Ria.ru, January 12, 2017.

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