Why Should Putin Help Trump?
BY: ANDREY KORTUNOV
With the US election campaign gaining speed, political opponents of the incumbent President are getting back to their old mantras of Vladimir Putin standing by his old friend and partner – if not his puppet – Donald Trump. This belief remains one of the very few issues on which there appears to be a strong consensus among such different people as Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Charles Schumer, and even Bernie Sanders. All of them seem to be convinced that Trump is “Putin’s best friend” in Washington and therefore, the Kremlin will be supporting Trump’s reelection in 2020 with the same vigor and with the same disrespect of the US sovereignty, as it allegedly supported his presidential race back in 2016.
Let me put aside an important question about whether the Kremlin can indeed exercise a significant influence on the course of the US elections or even define its outcome. I personally tend to believe that no external player has the resources, the skills, and the infrastructure needed to do that. Maybe, I have a higher opinion on the resilience of US political institutions and procedures than leaders of the Democratic Party have these days. However, let us imagine for a second that Vladimir Putin has all the needed resources, skills and infrastructure to define who is going to reside in the White House after January 20, 2021. Should he really support Donald Trump as his best bet for better relations between the two nations?
Nobody can question the apparent reality that since Donald Trump got to power three years ago, the US – Russian relations have not become any better. In fact, they have further significantly deteriorated. There was only one bilateral summit in Helsinki, which turned into a complete fiasco; the US government continues to throw restlessly multiple sanctions at Moscow; bilateral strategic arms control is more dead than alive, and the US and Russian Embassies respectively in Moscow and in DC look more like besieged castles than like full-fledged diplomatic missions.
A Trump’s opponent would probably argue that all this is not an outcome of Trump’s policies, but a result of successful attempts by the Deep State and the opposition on the Hill to prevent the President from reckless and potentially very dangerous moves to reach out to Vladimir Putin and to appease the Kremlin. In fact, the current deterioration of the relationship between Moscow and Washington looks like a dubious accomplishment no matter who claims it. Still, it would be unfair to argue that in this relationship, Congress has always been the bad cop, and the White House – the good one.
For instance, it was the White House, not Congress, to take the initiative in getting the United States out of the INF Treaty with Russia and in questioning the value of the New Start Agreement for the US side. It was the White House to start a fierce war against the North Stream – 2 pipeline and to launch a ‘maximum pressure’ policy on the Islamic Republic of Iran, which happens to be Russia’s strategic partner in the Middle East region. On many issues, the Trump administration went much further in challenging the Kremlin than many experienced and prudent politicians on the Hill would like it to do.
Moreover, what Democrats often label as ‘Trump’s presents to Putin,’ from a closer range do not look like valuable gifts. For example, can Russia really benefit a lot from the planned US withdrawal from Afghanistan or even from Syria? I doubt it very much. In both cases, we are likely to see the strategic vacuum left by the United States more likely to be filled by forces hostile to Moscow than by Russia’s allies or friends.
Donald Trump might personally like Vladimir Putin, and this feeling might be truly mutual. The two men share many views on the world and on how to conduct foreign policy. Both stand for sovereignty, both put specific national interests above abstract global commons. Both like transactional approaches and are not particularly fond of multilateralism. However, the commonality or similarity of views do not make Trump and Putin natural allies; they simply do not have much of offer to each other. Donald Trump cannot convince Vladimir Putin to break his alliances with Beijing, Tehran or Damascus and to move to the ‘right side of history,’ while Putin cannot expect Trump to dismantle the deep anti-Russian consensus existing today in Washington and to put the bilateral relationship back on track.
The outcome of the 2020 Presidential election in the United States will affect not only America but the rest of the world as well, including Europe, China, the Middle East, and so on. Russia is no exception. Nevertheless, for Russia, this election in relative terms will mean less than for many other international players.
Unfortunately, the US – Russian relationship will remain adversarial no matter who gets to the White House in 2021. At this juncture, the best we can do is to try managing this adversity by reducing risks and avoiding prohibitively high costs of an uncontrolled confrontation. And let us hope that the next Presidential election of 2024, which will take place the same year in both the US and Russia, will give us reasons to aim higher than that.
Note: Featured image photo – President Donald J. Trump and President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation; July 16, 2018. Credit: Shealah Craighead/ Official White House Photo)
This article (Why Should Putin Help Trump?) was originally created and published by American Herald Tribune and is republished on the TLB website with permission and attribution to the author Andrey Kortunov and website ahtribune.com
About the Author: Andrey Kortunov is the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council.
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