MOSCOW — Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky still fondly remembers the time he says a Russian official working at the United Nations arranged a meeting for him with Donald Trump.
“He understood that the way Russia is portrayed in the American press does not correspond to reality,” Zhirinovsky said of Trump, recalling the 2002 meeting in New York. “He understood that we were even better than the Americans.”
But as Russia takes stock of Year One of the Trump presidency, the pundits and politicians here who predicted a sea change in relations with the United States increasingly are concluding that they bet wrong. The first year in the White House of the most pro-Russian major-party presidential nominee in recent history has brought U.S.-Russian relations to an even lower point than before Trump took office.
“I thought there would be a revolution,” said Zhirinovsky, who hosted a champagne reception in the Russian parliament after Trump won. “We could not possibly have foreseen all that happened.”
In his campaign, Trump promised to improve relations with Russia. He called Russian President Vladimir Putin “very smart.” But in Trump’s first year as president, his administration has doubled down on President Barack Obama’s support for Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists and gone along with congressional sanctions against Russia.
The result: a civics lesson for those Russians who thought that the U.S. president could wield as much influence as their own. The state news media, pro-Kremlin politicians and many commentators now accuse the Washington establishment and the U.S. media of spinning a fiction about Russian election interference and blocking Trump from carrying out his promise of a friendlier policy toward Moscow.
Putin told reporters last month that Trump has not been able to improve relations with Russia “even if he wanted to, because of the obvious constraints.” His press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, called the state of U.S.-Russian relations the main disappointment of 2017.
“This is a president whose hands are tied,” Valery Garbuzov, director of the Institute of U.S. and Canada Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, said at a roundtable on Trump’s first year hosted by a Russian state news agency. Using a phrase that is a favorite in Russian political circles, he added, “The Russian political elite saw the U.S. president as being at the top of a vertical of power, as we have it here.”
One bellwether is Zhirinovsky, a presidential candidate and longtime firebrand who revels in racially charged and xenophobic rhetoric. Russians often ridicule him for his outrageous statements, but he supports Putin and is one of the most prominent voices in Russian politics.
In an interview, Zhirinovsky said he wanted to meet prominent Americans, preferably politicians, when he visited New York in 2002. But a Russian official working at the United Nations, Vladimir Grachev, arranged a meeting for Zhirinovsky with Trump instead. Zhirinovsky said that in the meeting, he tried to persuade Trump to build a development in Moscow and offered to help with contacts in the city government.
“He was the only one who agreed to meet with me,” Zhirinovsky said. “Trump apparently was already on the radar screen as someone who traveled to Moscow and didn’t refuse meetings with those who arrived in New York.”
Grachev, now the deputy administrative head of Russia’s Central Election Commission, confirmed in a phone interview that he arranged the 2002 meeting as a favor for Zhirinovsky, whom he had long known. Grachev said that he did so in a one-off, informal capacity and that it came together thanks to a mutual acquaintance of Grachev’s and Trump’s: Tamir Sapir, a Soviet-born real estate developer who had lived in Trump Tower and who died in 2014.
Source : https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/after-a-year-of-trump-russians-are-still-waiting-for-the-thaw/2018/01/18/89334322-fadb-11e7-9b5d-bbf0da31214d_story.html