“I’m not optimistic that the overlap of common interests with Russia is very big,” says Michael McFaul, a Russia scholar at Stanford University in California. “Aside from the bumper sticker of fighting terrorism, there’s not a lot of common agenda.”
Consider the Israeli-Arab conflict, the Iran nuclear issue, and the Syrian civil war—all cited as areas of potential cooperation in early telephone calls between Trump and Putin. Russia is an ally and arms supplier to Iran and Syria, which are both Israel’s sworn enemies. Trump, meanwhile, is a staunch critic of Iran and an unwavering Israel supporter.
And perhaps most fundamentally, Trump and Putin find themselves on opposite sides of the NATO divide. The U.S. has long been the leader of the 28-nation military alliance dedicated to protecting the freedom of Western Europe. Russia has returned to its traditional role of seeing NATO as an adversary. Currently, NATO is moving troops and weaponry into four countries bordering Belarus, where Russia plans to conduct major military maneuvers this year.
The two nations do have common terrorist enemies, like ISIS, but American military and intelligence agencies are hesitant to share information with Russian officials, who are more likely to see the U.S. as a target to be spied on than as an ally. The two sides might find a common position on Ukraine, where Trump has said he will consider lifting Obama’s economic sanctions—but even there, he may find stiff resistance from Congress, which is far more skeptical of Russian intentions.