Oct 15th, 2017 - by Derek Fraser, Centre for Global Studies at the University of Victoria, former ambassador to Ukraine
According to press reports, U.S. President Donald Trump, in his desire for reconciliation with Russia, was initially considering removing sanctions on Russia and recognizing a Russian zone of influence in Eastern Europe. In fact, Trump might not have achieved reconciliation through such measures. What Russia seeks is more than a zone of influence: It wants to be recognized as a great power with a veto on all questions affecting Russian security, including the activities of NATO and the EU.
To understand Russian goals, we have to look at the roots of Russian policy towards the west. European Russia, like France, Germany and Poland, lies on the North European Plain. Like these states, it therefore lacks geographical defences against attack, and has historically regarded its principal neighbours as its enemies.
The west European states, as a result of their experience during the Second World War, resolved after the war to follow a new course. By creating common European and Atlantic institutions, the west Europeans came to regard their neighbours as their friends, and to recognize that international relations did not have to be a zero-sum game.
For the Russians, however, the Second World War had reinforced their traditional view that their neighbours were their enemies unless they were under Russian control, and that the defence of Russia required pushing its boundaries as far west as possible.
According to this view, therefore, the end of the Cold War and the break-up of the Soviet Union were disasters not mitigated by any understanding with the west on future relations. The west promoted democracy and was open to the integration of East European states into Euro-Atlantic Institutions. Russia sought instead to recover its position as a great power, including a zone of influence.