MOSCOW — Whatever the expectations for President Trump’s new relationship with Russia, anyone looking for a dramatic shift from the Kremlin is going to have to wait past Day One.
While some Russian companies and political activists have taken advantage of “Trumpomania” here, holding inauguration parties and putting the new president’s face on sugar cubes and commemorative coins, the Moscow establishment is repeating a simple mantra designed to limit expectations: “Donald Trump is not our man.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, repeated those words during a television interview Saturday where he emphasized that the Kremlin would play a wait-and-see approach with the new president on key issues such as the crisis in Ukraine, Syria and bilateral relations.
According to an advance transcript of his remarks, he also trashed a proposal by Trump in an interview last week with European newspapers to reduce nuclear arms substantially and said that the question should not be tied to U.S. sanctions against Russia that were imposed because of the Ukraine crisis.
“Nuclear disarmament is a conceptual umbrella term, but it is made up of an enormous number of nuances,” Peskov said on the current affairs program on state television. “It can’t be disproportionate. The composition of the nuclear [arsenal] in the United States and in our country are different. And that’s why any symmetric reductions are absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.”
Trump told the Sunday Times this week that the European Union “has sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially, that’s part of it.”
The Kremlin has taken pains in public not to look desperate to have the sanctions repealed. Peskov said Saturday that “tying together the question of sanctions and of nuclear reductions will not likely be possible from the expert point of view. Our president has repeatedly said that the question of sanctions is not part of our agenda. Russia was not the initiator of this question. And it won’t be, in the words of Putin, the initiator of their repeal.”
Putin will call Trump in the next few days to congratulate him on his inauguration, Peskov said. So far, no meeting between the two leaders has been arranged.
Despite being lukewarm on Trump’s proposal on nuclear weapons, the Kremlin has made clear that it preferred him to a Hillary Clinton administration and was happy to see the Obama administration come to an end. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev published a scathing Facebook post this week, saying the Obama administration “has destroyed relations between the United States and Russia, which are at their lowest point in decades.”
On Ukraine, where Moscow has helped to prop up two breakaway territories in the country’s southeast, Peskov called the Obama administration’s support of Kiev “unconstructive,” but compared Trump’s election victory and U.S. support for Ukraine to the fairy tale Cinderella.
“The carriage is about to turn into a pumpkin,” he said. “The clock is about to strike midnight.”
Regarding the new administration’s position on Ukraine, he said he did not know. “You and we will see quite soon,” he said.
Putin’s spokesman did allow some optimism about U.S. involvement in the Syria peace talks opening Monday in Astana, Kazakhstan, but the State Department said Saturday that the Trump administration will not send a delegation because of “immediate demands of the transition.”
Peskov said that Iran had opposed U.S. involvement at the talks, which he said were unlikely to yield any serious deals. But in a slight concession from the Kremlin’s usual line, he said, “It’s clear that it will be impossible to constructively regulate the Syrian issue without the participation of the United States.”