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US identity 'threatened' by change in policy towards Russia

Donald Trump’s change in policy towards Russia poses a “significant threat” to US national identity, according to an academic from King’s College London.

Donald Trump stands at a podium in 2016 on his post-election victory tour
Dr Ruth Deyermond says there has been a shift in policy from the US in relation to Russia.

Dr Ruth Deyermond says the “incoherence” of the Trump administration’s response to authoritarianism and deteriorating human rights in Russia represents a “fundamental challenge” to the United States’ post-Cold War identity as a defender of democracy around the globe.

In a new article, “You think our country’s so innocent?” The Trump administration’s policy on democratic practices in Russia and the challenge to US identity, Dr Deyermond says the Trump administration seems to speak with different voices in relation to Russia, which has represented a departure in the approach of all US administrations since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In the article, Dr Deyermond, a King’s Russia Institute affiliate, said: “US governmental discourse on the status of democracy in Russia has been transformed by the Trump presidency. The Trump administration has eroded the US’s position on democracy and human rights in Russia, reducing public comment by the State Department and moderating much of the content of any comment made, and ceasing comment by the White House almost entirely.

“However, interpretation of the Trump administration's position on the issue of democracy in Russia is complicated by a lack of clarity and seemingly of co-ordination. When it speaks, the Trump administration does so with several different voices on the connected issues of Russian anti-democratic practices and the normative position of the US in relation to Russia.

“The approach of White House officials – suggesting, for example, that “we don’t get to dictate” on the issue of Russian electoral practices – challenges the foreign policy narrative of all US administrations since the end of the Cold War.”

Dr Deyermond noted that, while the US State Department’s annual human rights report had remained unequivocal in its criticism of Russia’s record under President Vladimir Putin, the president himself had instead focussed on the need for a good relationship with Russia.

Dr Deyermond added: “The story that the US has told itself about its exceptional character is ruptured by the discourse of this administration, which assumes both a normative equivalence between the US and Russia and an absence of any particular US responsibility for democratic advancement.

“If US national identity constitutes and is constituted by US foreign policy, it appears to face a significant threat in the form of the Trump administration’s policy towards Russia.”

King’s Russia Institute sits within the School of Politics and Economics.

If US national identity constitutes and is constituted by US foreign policy, it appears to face a significant threat in the form of the Trump administration’s policy towards Russia.– Dr Ruth Deyermond

In this story

Ruth  Deyermond

Ruth Deyermond

Senior Lecturer in Post-Soviet Security