As Donald Trump soon assumes the presidency, a fascinating problem remains Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin whom he seems to adore. They have numerous similarities. No Russian leader, save Yuri Andropov, ever came from the security forces before Putin. Trump was a wealthy real estate developer and TV personality who never held political office before running for President.
Both are egotistical showmen and "tough men." Trump spent 14 years on television looking tough as the director of the Apprentice while Putin loves to be the tough man who demonstrates his physical prowess. Trump wanted to be a professional athlete while Putin was a judoku champion. In their troubled youth, Trump at 10 was sent to military academy while Putin bought a condominium for a woman in Tel Aviv who took care of him when he often left home in anger as a youth.
But while Trump gained wealth through real estate deals, Putin "earned" it as Russia's leader.
They will have very different roles when they are the leaders of the United States and Russia. Trump will have an 18 trillion dollar capitalist economy, long-term democracy governed by the rule of law, first class Silicon Valley, most of the world's leading universities and 38 million immigrants amid 325 million people.
The United States has numerous allies all over the world. Spending 660 billion dollars a year on the military, America has strong nuclear forces, over 500 bases around the world, and has remained the world's #1 military superpower for over 70 years.
Putin rules a faltering economy with less than a 2 trillion dollars, with minimal capitalism, democracy and rule of law. Its 143 million people have been declining every year save last year. Its GDP/capita is 64th in the world with no modern agricultural or consumer sectors, no Silicon Valley of note, a few good universities and millions of emigrants. Russia has few close allies and is under sanctions from the European Union. Russia has few ports (one in the Middle East) and a very modest navy.
The defeat in the Cold War cost Russia 14 new nations, 150 million people and over 2 million square miles of territories. Its army withdrew from the center of Europe to defend Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
It does have a strong military (80 billion dollars/year), extensive nuclear forces, intelligence capabilities and state run hitech sector. Russia still has 6.5 million square miles of territory that abut a dozen countries.
While the United States is looking inwards and worrying about the failure of the wars with Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), a weaker Russia is looking outwards.
While Obama was partly withdrawing from the Middle East, Russia under Putin took back parts of the former Soviet empire in Georgia (2008), Crimea (2014), and Left Bank Ukraine (2015-2016). Russia wants to extend its sphere of influence to Eastern Europe which it controlled not only from 1945-1991 but partially during the Tsarist Empire. The recent elections in Bulgaria, Estonia and Moldova went in a pro-Russian direction. While Hungary and the Czech Republic were already going in their pro-Russian direction, Russia wants to dismantle NATO which would outrage our European allies.
Russia also wants an end to sanctions for the invasion of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, recognition of Crimea as part of Russia and a victory for Assad in Syria. It can offer little to the Americans while frightening America's European allies who are physically close to Russia. Russia maintains a strong nuclear arsenal and is mostly remembered for aggressive moves in the Cold War.
All this ensures that better relations with Russia mean that Trump will be opposed by Republicans such as Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul. A Gallup poll found 65% of the public viewed Russia unfavorably, 30% were favorable while 39% saw Russia as a military threat to the United States.
Furthermore, China, still a Communist state, and Iran, the leading state sponsor of terrorism, are both coming closer to Russia. This further waves a red flag to many Americans.
Thus, while there may be a brief detente between Russia and the United States, in the long run there are too many differences, obstacles and problems that ensure the two will not become friends or allies.