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A Trump-Putin summit is just what’s needed

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | April 2, 2018

The Chinese commentators consistently paint a pessimistic outlook for the troubled relations between Russia and the West, which no doubt form a crucial template of Beijing’s foreign policy. China is a “stakeholder” in the tensions between Russia and the West. Beijing must be acutely conscious that there has always been a significant (albeit not influential currently) school of opinion in the West, including in the United States, that a rapprochement with Russia will make sound long-term strategy to effectively contain China’s rise, which must be the West’s top priority.

Nonetheless, a news analysis by Xinhua with a Moscow dateline has simply gone overboard in making some hasty conclusions about the state of play in the backdrop of the Skripal spy case that has suddenly invaded the centre stage of Russia’s ties with the West:

·       With the inertia of the sanctions spiral going on, Russia and the West are expected to continue the hostility in the diplomatic sphere and even expand it to other areas that are more painful for both sides in the foreseeable future.

·       Although the question hanging over the spy-poisoning attack remains unanswered, one thing is for sure: Russia’s reputation has been damaged in the eyes of the international community while the alliance between the United States and Europe has been consolidated… It is widely expected that the tensions between Russia and the West will not ease off anytime soon. 

Is the state of play so hopeless? Xinhua has exaggerated. Things look gloomy but are not beyond salvation. Russia’s tensions with the West are actually not so serious as China’s own tensions with the West. But then, China is much smarter than Russia in its diplomacy in finessing these tensions. China also has the advantage that it was not a Cold-War adversary of the West in the sense in which the former Soviet Union got pitted in the “bipolar” world. China did splendidly well to exploit the rivalry between the US and USSR.

Russia is the main target today, because it is also the only power that has the capability to maintain global strategic balance and it has an ideological position with regard to the US’ hegemony, which it is determined to uphold no matter the costs involved — although Russia is not a communist country any more. Besides, Russia is not like any other country. It is a European power historically, culturally, economically and politically. And Russia’s habitation and name in a common European home profoundly impacts the US’ transatlantic leadership role.

China being an Asiatic country can run with the hare and hunt with the hound – making the best of both worlds by keeping a quasi-alliance with Russia while also on parallel track going in top gear to tap into the western markets to get fatter and richer. China’s supreme advantage is that it lacks any ideology (other than nationalism and self-interests). Russia takes a principled stance but China keeps its head under the parapet if its interests are not affected. If the tensions run high in Russia’s relations with the West, China is its beneficiary.

However, Russia’s tensions with the West over the Skripal case are more complex than what Xinhua has reported. It is discernible that European countries have been reluctantly dragged into the Skripal case. (Blood is thicker than water, after all.) The big question is how far the US collaborated with Britain. In my assessment, the jury is still out.

There are unanswered, unanswerable questions. The most important thing is that the Skripal case might have got dovetailed with the “anti-Trump” project of the Washington establishment. In particular, was this the swan song of Lt. Gen. HR McMaster (who was expecting dismissal for the past several weeks)? Is it a counterattack by the “Deep State” to keep Trump off balance just when he began making moves to put together a new team in his cabinet with a view to force his will on foreign policies?

Has there been an orchestrated (Anglo-American) attempt involving the intelligence agencies to force Trump’s hands? How much is the Skripal case entangled with the campaign over Trump’s “collusion” with Russia? Most important, where exactly does Trump himself stand in all this?

To my mind, Trump is not seeking confrontation with Russia, and if anything, his phone call to British PM Theresa May might have had a salutary effect on London, which has since noticeably piped down on the Skripal file. Read the White House readout of the phone call, here. There is no trace whatsoever here that Trump is traveling on a path of confrontation with the Kremlin.

In fact, neither Trump nor Vladimir Putin wants this “to be going beyond hysteria over diplomacy” – to borrow words from Xinhua. Trump has always had great conceptual clarity in his mind that it is China – and not Russia – that is the US’ real adversary.

Any longtime observer of Russian-American relations would know that most of the time things are never really what they’ve appeared to be on surface. The two big powers are greatly experienced in navigating through choppy waters. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me that TASS has just at this juncture highlighted the prospect of a summit between Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Given the longstanding media culture in Moscow, it is inconceivable that the state news agency would have carried such a report on its own volition reflecting on the Kremlin leader. There is, for sure, some very serious “signaling” going on.

April 2, 2018 - Posted by | Aletho News | , , ,

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