President Trump wants to hit it off with Vladimir Putin, hoping to make Russia a friend of the United States. He’s right to try. Contrary to the common perception that Russia is a natural enemy of the U.S., Russia is a natural friend . There’s no reason to believe they can’t get along in future, and every reason to believe they can.
Aside from the decades that Russia was communist, no country over America’s long history has been a more faithful friend, particularly in times of need. Even before American independence, Russia under its great monarch, Catherine the Great, defied Britain by trading directly with the American colonies, in violation of the mercantile system Britain then imposed. During the American War of Independence, Russia — which had been an ally of Britain’s — refused British requests of military aid, choosing instead to finance the colonies through continued trade, to keep sea lanes open for navigation and to use its diplomatic leverage to help the colonies obtain a favourable peace.
During the American Civil War, when it looked like Britain or France might enter the war on the side of the Confederacy, Russia’s Czar Alexander II sent his Baltic and Pacific fleets to New York and San Francisco, along with instructions to their admirals to report to President Lincoln for duty should their presence in American harbours fail to dissuade the Europeans from entering the war.
Alexander II, like Catherine, had an affinity for the United States. The two countries had, in the words of his foreign minister, “a natural community of interests and of sympathies.” One such area of common interest was the civil rights of the populace, a sore in their body politic for decades. Alexander’s Emancipation Manifesto, which freed the serfs in 1861, preceded Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1865.