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M. K. Bhadrakumar |

So it wasn’t mere coincidence that Russia ‘test-fired’ on Tuesday from a submerged state-of-the-art submarine its most advanced ICBM with a capability to carry 10 nuclear warheads of 100 kilotons each that can destroy the United States. (See my blog Trump-Putin meeting is so near and so far away.) At a ceremony in Moscow on Wednesday in honor of officers who have graduated with distinction from Russian military academies and universities, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia is bolstering its military power against “potential aggressors”.

“You are well aware of the challenges faced by Russia. They include attempts to hinder our development, to provoke a confrontation, and to destabilize the regions near our borders. In particular, terrorist and extremist groups are being used as tools. It is no secret that some of them are being diligently looked after, and even receive direct support from special services of a number of states. In general, it is clear that the activity of foreign intelligence services directed against Russia and our allies is on the rise.”

He said, “Only advanced powerful mobile armed forces are capable of securing the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country and protecting us and our allies from any potential aggressor, as well as from pressure and intimidation by those who do not like the independent sovereign Russia.” Putin revisited the subject from another angle at a different venue in Moscow, also on Wednesday, when he addressed the Foreign Intelligence Service staff and veterans on the 95th anniversary of Russian “illegal intelligence”. (For those not familiar with the terminology, “illegal intelligence” is what Pakistan says Kulbhushan Jadhav had undertaken – see the full text and video of Jadhav’s “confessional statement”, here.)

Read more: Lockheed Martin in India: Strategic implications for Pakistan

Putin made a stirring speech, here, packed with emotion. (Putin doesn’t hide his unvarnished admiration for the men who undertake “illegal intelligence” work whom he knew during his professional career in the Soviet-era KGB.) Putin told his audience: “You are well aware of the challenges faced by Russia. They include attempts to hinder our development, to provoke a confrontation, and to destabilize the regions near our borders. In particular, terrorist and extremist groups are being used as tools. It is no secret that some of them are being diligently looked after, and even receive direct support from special services of a number of states. In general, it is clear that the activity of foreign intelligence services directed against Russia and our allies is on the rise.”

The Politico carried a stunning report yesterday that there were fireworks at a recent White House meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a close aide to Trump. It seems tensions had been steadily building and, finally, Tillerson exploded in anger and frustration that the White House guys are interfering to disrupt his best-laid plans.

Hmmm. Temperature is palpably rising in Russia-US relations. The Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakhavrova today leveled a litany of complaints against the US behavior (here). One plausible explanation could be that the Trump administration is a roller coaster and things are simply spinning out of the president’s control. ‘Chaos’ could be the apt word.

Putin’s top advisor on foreign policy, Ambassador Yuri Ushakov attributes the current turbulence to an “internal power struggle” in the US, which is undermining the White House policies. However, increasingly, the signs are that the White House itself is a house divided. The Politico carried a stunning report yesterday that there were fireworks at a recent White House meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and a close aide to Trump. It seems tensions had been steadily building and, finally, Tillerson exploded in anger and frustration that the White House guys are interfering to disrupt his best-laid plans.

Read more: Trump cracks deals with Modi; sells Pakistan dummies!

Curiously enough, the foreign-policy wonk in the Trump team, the old man’s Orthodox Jew son-in-law Jared Kushner who was present at the meeting, later criticized Tillerson’s behaviour – and of course had that bit of vital info leaked to the press as well – casting the state secretary (an erstwhile boss of ExxonMobil) as an immature fellow. And, come to think of it, Tillerson was supposed to have one inspired choice that Trump had made while picking his cabinet team. What happens now if Tillerson throws in the towel in disgust and returns to Texas to resume his retired life? (Read the Politico report here.)

The Russian FO spokesperson Zakharova said today that the recent US allegations about Syrian government planning chemical attacks could be the “harbinger of a new (US) intervention” and that Moscow is apprehensive that the US military may resort to a “large-scale provocation” under propaganda cover, “which is directed not only against the Syrian authorities but also against Russia.”

The real danger is that Trump may feel tempted take recourse to do something very rash in sheer desperation, which he wouldn’t have done in calmer times – such as getting into a military standoff with Russia. Trump must be smart enough to know that in this murky political climate in Washington, he will be talking to Putin from a position of a disadvantage if they held a meeting on the sidelines of the G20 at Hamburg. (There is already a Guardian report that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has a plan to isolate Trump totally at the G20 on climate change.)

Read more: Why has Modi suddenly become a tree lover?

The Russian FO spokesperson Zakharova said today that the recent US allegations about Syrian government planning chemical attacks could be the “harbinger of a new (US) intervention” and that Moscow is apprehensive that the US military may resort to a “large-scale provocation” under propaganda cover, “which is directed not only against the Syrian authorities but also against Russia.” Interestingly, this perception is also prevalent amongst US analysts (here and here).

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.

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”.

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