William and Mary professor weighs in on American-Russian relations


Russia is a key piece to the puzzle of global stability. However, due to a combination of history and President Donald Trump’s leadership, it’ll be a tall order for the United States to put that piece into place.

That was the main takeaway from Larry Wilkerson, a William and Mary professor of government and public policy and former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson weighed in on Russia relations and their effect on the world at large in front of more than 250 people at the Williamsburg Library Theatre as part of the Great Decisions lecture series Tuesday.

Cooperation between the United States and Russia is important to preserve peace and for the United States to have a productive relationship with China. The Russian government, and particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin, is suspicious of the United States in part due to what it considers a history of interference in Russian affairs by the United States and past discussions about countries on Russia’s border, such as Georgia and Ukraine, joining NATO, Wilkerson said.

Another complicating factor is the administration of Donald Trump, which is dogged by controversy regarding Russia and appears incapable or reluctant to challenge Russia as it uses its power to shape events in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“Putin goes into the crevices and the cracks, exploits them, backs up if there’s too much of a challenge to his move and bides his time for another crevice and another crack. And with Donald Trump at the helm, there’s going to be plenty of crevices and cracks,” Wilkerson said.

But while Russia poses a threat to the United States, it can and should be a partner in solutions to conflicts across the world. A political solution to the war in Syria could be reached if the United States and Russia would launch a concerted effort to pressure their respective allies in the region toward peace, Wilkerson said.

“We need Moscow and Washington working together,” Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson criticized the Trump administration’s lack of interest in a robust State Department, which has been weakened since Trump took office.

The State Department took a hit the day of the lecture when Trump announced he would replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The specter of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections hampers the United States’ ability to meet challenges abroad as Republicans and Democrats spar over the investigation, making partisanship a hurdle to effective policy abroad, Wilkerson said.

The Trump administration’s take on foreign affairs, so at odds with decades of American foreign policy, has also complicated relations with longtime allies like Germany and Japan, which are falling out of the American orbit due to a lack of trust in Trump. This trend could further destabilize the world, Wilkerson said.

The lecture series is sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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