President Trump and Russia with SMU’s Daniel Orlovsky

SMU history Professor and Russia expert Daniel Orlovsky visited the Tower Center to give the final monthly seminar looking at the new Trump administration April 26.

Orlovsky is an expert in the 1917 revolution, which ended imperial Russia, ushered in the new age of communism, and created the Soviet Union. President Putin, he says, is against this revolution since it suggests a violent overthrow of a regime; he blames the revolution on intellectuals, liberals and Western ideals.

While Putin’s approval rating remains strong, Orlovsky said his position is becoming precarious. The sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia after Putin’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014 have had an affect: oil prices have dropped along with the value of the Ruble. If Russia’s economy collapses, so too will Putin’s regime.

Orlovsky says that U.S.-Russia relations are confused, as usual, increasingly confrontational, and that there is talk of a new Cold War. He advises the two countries to try harder to work together.

“You can’t assume diplomacy is dead just because the ideologies are different,” Orlovsky said. He calls for the U.S. to not foolishly demonize Russia since there is plenty that the U.S. has done to anger Russia, such as our “triumphism” after the fall of the Soviet Union and our position in Kosovo.

“In an odd way [President Trump] was right in trying to suggest better relations,” he said. Orlovsky argues we need to have relations with Russia, as Trump has said, but that relationship must take into account certain realities. For example, we cannot blindly support any future Ukrainian state. We must build up Ukraine as a viable state and not tolerate corruption.

“It’s sad Russia is seen as the biggest problem in public opinion,” he said. “We’ve got to get over this fixation of Russia as the cause of everything.”