Page’s lecture today was to students from the New Economic School, a prestigious liberal-minded university in Moscow, where on Friday he will give a commencement speech at a graduation ceremony. In 2009, President Barack Obama also delivered a graduation speech at the school.
There were also questions around whether Page’s visit to Moscow and the prestigious school would also might include meetings with Russian government officials.
Trump has said he believes he would “have a very good relationship” with Putin and praised him as a “strong leader.” Putin, for his part, has seemed to offer winking endorsements for Trump, in December calling him “colorful” and “very talented without any doubt.” Last month, Putin praised Trump’s calls to normalize relations, saying he of course welcomed them.
At the event, Page declined to speak directly about the Trump campaign’s policy regarding Russia or what advice he was providing, insisting that his remarks were his personal views and skirting direct policy questions. He also avoided naming Trump throughout the speech.
“I am here as a private citizen,” Page told the auditorium. “These ideas that we discuss night may not necessarily reflect those of other people or other organizations that I may be working with.”
Nonetheless, in his lecture, entitled “The Evolution of the World Economy: Trends and Potential,” Page hinted at the broad attitudes that could underlie a President Trump’s Russian policy.
In his 40-minute speech, Page outlined a view implying the U.S. had been overly hostile toward Russia and suggesting the blame for the current tensions lay largely with the American government. Page echoed Trump’s own attacks on Washington’s foreign policy consensus, suggesting that U.S. experts and officials’ assessment of Russia was skewed by an anti-Russian bias and that they often “unnecessarily perpetuated Cold War tendencies.”
Page did, however, appear to differ from Trump in some areas. While Trump has regularly slammed China for alleged dishonesty in trade relations, Page praised China at length for what he called its policy based on “mutual respect.”
Page’s sympathetic attitude to the Kremlin perspective that Russia has been provoked by an expansionist U.S. was already known -- he has written widely on the subject. In a blog post for the Global Policy Journal titled “New Slaves: Global Edition,” Page compared U.S. government policy toward Russia with that of American slave-owners toward black slaves.
At the event, Page was at pains to avoid making comments that could be construed as Trump policy. He repeatedly declined to answer questions on specific issues of U.S.-Russian relations, including whether he supported the lifting of sanctions on Russia.
“I’m not here at all talking about anything outside my academic endeavors and personal experience on the business front,” Page said. “You can read between the lines and see some of the thing I’ve written in past so you can know my personal thoughts.” But he said, “Today is not the time and place.”
Page’s visit itself was perhaps more notable than the content of his speech. It was unclear why Page, a relatively little-known analyst, had been invited suddenly to speak at the same event offered to the serving U.S. president. Interest in Page’s trip was high among Russian media, which was in large attendance at the event.
Shlomo Weber, the director of the New Economic School, said he could not remember if he had invited Page before or after he was appointed adviser to Trump. Weber said he hoped Page would “broaden his students’ horizons.”
“Being Trump’s adviser certainly doesn’t disqualify him,” from speaking, Weber said.
There was also speculation that Page might meet with officials from the Russian government during his visit. Asked at the event directly whether he would meet with officials from Putin’s presidential administration and the foreign ministry, Page laughed and refused to answer.
“I have no comment on that at this stage,” he said.
Page’s low profile among foreign policy experts had raised eyebrows when Trump announced him along with four other advisers in an interview with the Washington Post’s editorial board.
Besides Page, Trump’s list included Joseph Schmitz, former inspector general at the Department of Defense under George W. Bush; George Papadopoulos, a 2009 graduate, who runs an international energy center at the London Center of International Law Practice; Walid Phares, an academic who has been linked to extreme Christian groups in Lebanon; and J. Keith Kellogg Jr., former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division who acted as chief operating officer for coalition forces in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
Presidential candidates normally draw on former officials with extensive experience and high profiles in foreign policy circles. But Trump’s campaign team has insisted his advisers had been favored for “real-world” experience in business and the military, rather than from the policy field.