A possible new makeover for US and Russia?

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M. K. Bhadrakumar |

The White House disclosed Thursday during a media briefing on President Donald Trump’s forthcoming trip to Europe next week that he will meet with many world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit (July 7-8) in Hamburg. It just fell short of a formal announcement, but never mind. The White House National Security Adviser, HR McMaster who gave the briefing was discernibly low-key, almost downplaying the announcement.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to nail him down on climate change and free trade.

Clearly, the White House hopes to keep expectations low. But that is understandable, given the high tide of pervasive Russophobia in the US. Equally, the Trump administration is circling its wagons. Trump got badly bruised in his first outing to Europe in May. This time around, German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes to nail him down on climate change and free trade. Then, there is the vexed question of Trump’s faith in Article 5 of the NATO Charter regarding collective security.

Trump’s America first policy

Trump won’t budge on trade deficit and NATO budget and has nothing to give away on climate change. Trump hopes to prise open the world energy market for US shale gas exports.

McMaster said Trump’s primary objectives will be “to promote American prosperity, to protect American interests and provide American leadership.” Plainly put, Trump won’t budge on trade deficit and NATO budget and has nothing to give away on climate change. Trump hopes to prise open the world energy market for US shale gas exports. He declared yesterday that “my administration will seek not only American energy independence that we’ve been looking for so long, but American energy dominance. And we’re going to be an exporter — exporter. We will be dominant. We will export American energy all over the world, all around the globe.” (here)

Read more: Trump’s travails may spill over to Euphrates valley

Trump may choose to be explicit on US’ transatlantic leadership. He will make a speech in Warsaw en route to Hamburg. McMaster said Trump will seek to “develop a common approach to Russia” aimed at developing a “more constructive relationship”, while on guard to “do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.” It is a markedly toned down formulation. McMaster said an agenda for Trump-Putin meeting “has not been set up at this point.” But overall, he gave a neutral spin — neither hyped up nor gloomy:

  • Well, our relationship with Russia is not different from any other country in terms of us communicating to them, really, what our concerns are, where we see problems in the relationship, but also opportunities. Secretary Tillerson, obviously as he does with all countries in the world, has the lead for that and has been engaged in a broad, wide-ranging discussion about irritants, problems in the relationship, but also to explore opportunities — where we can work together in areas of common interest. So it won’t be different from our discussions with any other country, really.

It isn’t as if Trump has no expectations out of the meeting with Putin. Syria and Ukraine are hot topics. Crisis instability between the US and Russia has touched a high threshold and there is urgent need to de-escalate potential flashpoints. To my mind, there might even be some takeaway such as the return of the Russian dacha in Maryland to the rightful owners or a resumption of de-confliction mechanism in Syria – and, quite likely, an agreement on extending New START (2012).

Read more: Detente 2.0’ between Russia and the US: an unconvincing idea under Trump

Earlier yesterday, Putin had a visitor in the Kremlin – Henry Kissinger. The grey cardinal has got back in the mix, for sure. Is he brokering a deal? The Kremlin, as usual, divulged no details of what transpired at the meeting between Putin and HK. Of course, Putin and HK go back a long way. If Trump seeks a cooperative relationship with Russia, HK is the ideal intermediary – architect of the détente with USSR in the seventies and an avid believer on warmer ties between the US and Russia and in a greater balance of power to strengthen global stability.

However, the point is, while there is ‘power vertical’ in Moscow, there is no guarantee that any understanding reached at Hamburg won’t get torpedoed in Washington at the implementation stage. A study conducted by the conservative Media Research Center has come up with the amazing finding that US media spent more than half of their total coverage on Trump dealing with the Russian probe.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.


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