Can Putin capitalise on his trump card?

Vladimir Putin has been handed “what can only be described as a trump card”, say George Hay and Sarah Hurst on BreakingViews.com.  The election of Donald Trump suddenly leaves Putin in a much stronger position on a host of geopolitical issues than before. The real question is what scope Putin has to capitalise on his advantage – and what that means for the rest of the world. 

At first glance, the election of a much more pro-Russia American president is not just good for Washington-Moscow relations, but also has the potential to facilitate Russia’s rehabilitation on the global stage, says the Financial Times. One obvious area for a thaw is the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

If sentiment continues to improve, and Russia and Ukraine are open to dialogue, some sanctions on Russia could be lifted in July next year, says Kenneth Rapoza on Forbes. Investors and strategists are bullish about the opportunities this thaw could re-open. “We’re seeing that with the rouble holding up, more money is looking at Russia,” David Nangle, managing director at Vostok Emerging Finance, a private-equity firm with stakes in several Russian companies, told the FT.

Even before the election result raised hopes of better relations, big Western companies had begun pumping billions of dollars into new stores and factories, counting on Russia’s consumers to “start emerging from hibernation after two years of recession”, says Bloomberg. Sweden’s Ikea Group is putting $1.6bn into new stores over the next five years or so, while France’s Leroy Merlin, a home improvement retailer, announced a 2bn plan to more than double the number of its outlets in Russia over the same five-year period.

“This is the moment for investment,” Walter Kadnar of Ikea told Bloomberg. “I strongly believe in the potential of the Russian market long term.” Overall, foreign direct investment in the country had surged to $8.3bn in the first nine months this year, more than the $5.9bn reported for the whole of 2015.

That said, it remains highly uncertain how this new relationship between Russia and the US might evolve after Trump assumes the presidency. There are plenty of political realities that stand in the way of a rapprochement, not least the possibility that Trump’s campaign rhetoric in praise of better ties with Putin may well turn out to have been “hot air” like many of his pledges, say Hay and Hurst. “Putin has been dealt a good hand by the US election outcome, but one that is part of a long poker game.”