As the US Gets a New Top Diplomat, is There Hope for Reconciliation With Russia?


On Wednesday, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was confirmed as the top US diplomat by a Senate vote. During his confirmation hearing he commented on a “resurging” Russia, admitting that it “poses a danger to the US.” Russian political analysts explained to Sputnik why the new secretary of state had to stick to such rhetoric.

On February 1, four Democratic and all Republican senators voted in favor of President Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s top diplomat, by a vote of 56 to 43 in the Senate.

During his confirmation hearing the former ExxonMobil CEO commented on Russia, calling it “resurging”, noting its “increased assertiveness” and admitting that it “poses a danger to the US.” However, he also cited the need for “open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambition.”

Russian political analysts explained to Sputnik why the new secretary of state, who is widely considered a pro-Russian politician due to his close ties with Russia, had to stick to such rhetoric.

Evgeny Minchenko, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Minchenko Consulting Communication Group and the Chairman of the Political Consulting Committee of the Russian Public Relations Association explained to Sputnik that Tillerson had no option but to address the Senate in this way, and not only due to the fact that the majority of the senators have a hardline stance on Russia.

In his future role as a diplomat and politician expressing the will of his country, he has to stick to the unified position set up by the American lawmakers, he told Sputnik.  Moreover, it would be naïve to consider Tillerson somewhat of a “pro-Russian dove” who will try to create the world against the will of Capitol Hill, he added.

“If there is any critical consensus regarding the situation in Ukraine, he can’t run counter to it. If there is any unified decision on Syria, he can’t go against it either,” the political consultant said.

However he further noted that so far, the newly appointed top diplomat has only made certain claims and remarks and his real policy could differ greatly from these remarks and it certainly won’t be a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy.

Meanwhile Fyodor Lukyanov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy told Sputnik that even though Tillerson is known for his close ties with Russia while being a high-profile businessman, he won’t be able to maintain the same line of behavior with the heads of states he pursued as a CEO of a large corporation while becoming a top diplomat.

First of all, he will need to build a constructive relationship with those states he used to work with, he said, but now in its new capacity, the political analyst said. He will have to follow the general flow of this country’s policy, and it won’t be always friendly.

At the same time, his experience, skills, initially peace-loving policy might become the very factors which will be able to lead Russian-American relations out of the deadlock they have found themselves in, Lukyanov added.

However Vice-President of the International Public Foundation “Experimental Creative Center” Yury Byaly suggests that Rex Tillerson could turn out to be a diplomat with a narrow political focus as his experience, first and foremost, has been previously focused on the economy.

There are chances though, that he could do quite well on the diplomatic front because under his management ExxonMobil has survived through both hard times and complicated negotiations in various countries, and was able to secure powerful positions around the world.

The expert also noted that Tillerson has experience in international diplomacy which goes beyond purely economic issues even though it does not fully comply with the requirements for the position of the top diplomat.

“Rex Tillerson is quite an independent figure, his connections are rather strongly intertwined with those of Donald Trump’s basic elite support group, but at the same time he has other powerful supporters,” Byaly told Sputnik.

“So it is quite reasonable to assume that he won’t simply be a “shadow” of Donald Trump. Very likely, we will see a diplomat able to deliver the political will which he will be forced to pursue,” he stated.

The expert also noted that what both the new US president and his top diplomat have in common is their urge for the need of a constructive dialogue with Russia.

Grigory Yarygin, a lecturer at the Department for American Studies, the St. Petersburg State University however suggested that Rex Tillerson is expected to have a pragmatic foreign policy approach, independent from US Congress.

“We can say that Tillerson will act independently, just like Donald Trump. They owe Congress nothing. They will act independently despite demands from congressmen. As for his foreign policy, it is likely to be realistic, non-militarized and pragmatic,” Yarygin told Radio Sputnik.

The expert suggested that Tillerson is likely to concentrate on Washington’s economic interests and commercial relations.

“He doesn’t have a diplomatic experience, but he is a responsible team player. He also has leader skills. So, I think he will be a good US State Secretary,” Yarygin said.

According to him, in building ties with Russia, Tillerson will adhere to a pragmatic approach.

“His starting point will be the fact that Russia acts rationally. There will be no provocations with sanctions. At the same time, he has a hardline view of sanctions and Russia’s foreign policy. I think he will run a deterrence policy towards Moscow, including no criticism and no confrontation,” the expert finally stated.

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