In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship

Growing Scope of Russian-Chinese Naval Exercises Points to Closer Ties

Growing Scope of Russian-Chinese Naval Exercises Points to Closer Ties

teaser Chinese missile destroyer Zhengzhou Chinese ship Growing Scope of Russian-Chinese Naval Exercises Points to Closer TiesSeptember 21, 2017RM StaffAs the Russian and Chinese navies hold joint war games for the second time this year, experts can’t help but wonder whether the growing size and geographic range of such exercises mean that Moscow and Beijing are moving closer to a military pact. “They are building a de facto alliance,” leading Russian military expert Vasily Kashin told the Wall Street Journal in reference to the second stage of Joint Sea-2017, which is set to begin this week. “They want to understand on a granular level how their two militaries can cooperate.”

As the Russian and Chinese navies hold joint war games for the second time this year, experts can’t help but wonder whether the growing size and geographic range of such exercises mean that Moscow and Beijing are moving closer to a military pact. “They are building a de facto alliance,” leading Russian military expert Vasily Kashin told the Wall Street Journal in reference to the second stage of Joint Sea-2017, which is set to begin this week. “They want to understand on a granular level how their two militaries can cooperate.”

Indeed, a look at the recent timeline of Russian-Chinese naval exercises (see below) reveals that the two countries’ navies have been expanding the number of vessels and locations in their joint war games since at least 2013. This shows that Russian and Chinese leaders want their armed forces to acquire the capability for joint operations. In fact, relations between Russia and China have become close enough that some policy influentials on both sides have begun to advocate a military-political union between the two countries. It remains unclear, however, whether Vladimir Putin would want Russia to enter a formal military alliance with China akin to NATO or the former Warsaw Pact anytime soon, especially given reservations in Russia about conventional military, demographic and economic disparities between Russia and China. However, the longer Russia remains in an antagonistic relationship with the West, the less reluctant Russian leaders may be to enter such an alliance.

Timeline of recent Russian-Chinese naval exercises:

 

Name and time: Stage 2 of Joint Sea-2017, Sept. 22-26

Location: Seas of Japan and Okhotsk

Scale: 11 ships and two submarines; two deep-submergence rescue vehicles; four anti-submarine warfare aircraft; and four ship-borne helicopters. Russia represented by the Admiral Tributs Udaloy-class destroyer; the Sovershenny corvette; the Igor Belousov rescue ship, carrying the AS-40 deep-submergence rescue vehicle; the R-11 missile corvette; the Sovetskaya Gavan Grisha-class corvette; the Viktor Faleyev hydrographic survey vessel; the MB-93 sea tug; and two diesel-electric submarines. The four-vessel Chinese task force will be led by the Shijiazhuang destroyer.

Aim of the exercise: Improvement of coordination in countering joint maritime threats.

(Sources: China Military Online, 09.20.17; TASS, 09.17.17)

 

Name and time: Stage 1 of Joint Sea-2017, July 21-28

Location: Baltic Sea off Baltiysk, a coastal city in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, its westernmost territory

Significance: First time Chinese navy sent warships to participate in an exercise in the Baltic Sea

Scale: Three Chinese warships and 10 Russian ships, including two of Russia’s new generation Project 20380 corvettes as well as a rescue tug; Ka-27 multi-purpose shipborne helicopters; and Su-24 tactical bombers. China sent the Hefei destroyer; the Yuncheng frigate; and the Luoma Lake supply ship.

Aim of exercise: To “train and improve cooperation procedures at sea,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

(Sources: TASS, 09.17.17; The New York Times, 07.25.17)

 

Name: Joint Sea-2016

Location: South China Sea

Significance: Russia’s consent to participate in an exercise was significant because it was in the South China Sea, where China  has disputes over a number of islands with other countries in the region.

Scale: 18 ships and support vessels; 21 aircraft; over 250 marines; and 15 units of military equipment

Aim of the exercise: To practice the organization of all types of naval defense, combat firing at naval and aerial targets, and landing operations.

(Sources: Russia Beyond, 09.22.16; The New York Times, 07.25.17)


Name and time: Second part of Joint Sea-2015 (August)

Location: Peter the Great Gulf, waters off the Clerk Cape, Sea of Japan

Significance: Billed as largest Russian-Chinese naval exercise at the time.

Scale: 23 vessels and two submarines

Aim of the exercise: Live-firing drills, anti-submarine operations and close-support combat drills

(Sources: The Diplomat, 05.22.15; USNI News, 08.17.15; The National Interest, 09.16.16)

 

Name and time: First part of Joint Sea-2015 (May)

Location: Mediterranean Sea

Significance: First Russian-Chinese naval exercise in Mediterranean. Ahead of the exercise two Chinese frigates visited Russia’s Novorossiysk naval base in the Black Sea—also a first for the Chinese Navy.

Scale: 18 warships

Aim of the exercise: To practice replenishment and escort operations

(Sources: The Diplomat, 05.22.15; USNI News, 05.05.15)

 

Name and time: Joint Sea-2014

Location: East China Sea

Scale: 14 warships; two submarines; nine airplanes; and six helicopters from China and Russia

(Source: Naval Today, 05.27.14)

 

Name: Joint Sea-2013

Location: Sea of Japan

Significance: At the time, drills were billed as largest ever Russian-Chinese naval exercises. It was the first time the two navies staged joint military exercises near Peter the Great Gulf, involving the largest single batch of troops the Chinese Navy had dispatched to a joint drill with foreign navies.

Scale: 18 surface ships; one submarine; three airplanes; five ship-launched helicopters; and two commando units.

Aim of the exercise: To practice joint air defense, joint escorts and maritime search and rescue operations

(Sources: USA Today, 07.05.13; Xinhua, 08.19.15)

 

Name and time: Joint Sea-2012

Location: Waters near the eastern Chinese port city of Qingdao

Scale: 25 warships, 13 planes and nine helicopters, as well as two special-forces contingents

Aim of the exercise: To explore new ways to improve coordination and emergency response under multiple circumstances

(Source: Xinhua, 08.19.15)

Putin’s Attempted ‘Reset’: What Does It Say About His View of American Democracy?

Putin’s Attempted ‘Reset’: What Does It Say About His View of American Democracy?

teaser Capitol Capitol Putin’s Attempted ‘Reset’: What Does It Say About His View of American Democracy?September 15, 2017RM StaffThis week, thanks to BuzzFeed, we learned that back in March Vladimir Putin thought he could strike a deal with Donald Trump to reset the bilateral relationship and had submitted an ambitious proposal calling for the “wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.” What does this say about the Russian leader’s understanding of American politics? Is he under the impression that a U.S. president can single-handedly reverse U.S. policy on a major international issue with no regard for opposition from official and unofficial branches of power, including Congress, the media and the public? That certainly seems to be the case.

This week, thanks to BuzzFeed, we learned that back in March Vladimir Putin thought he could strike a deal with Donald Trump to reset the bilateral relationship and had submitted an ambitious proposal calling for the “wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.” What does this say about the Russian leader’s understanding of American politics? Is he under the impression that a U.S. president can single-handedly reverse U.S. policy on a major international issue with no regard for opposition from official and unofficial branches of power, including Congress, the media and the public? That certainly seems to be the case.

According to BuzzFeed’s Sept. 12 report, the Kremlin offered to hold a spate of high-level meetings in the space of a few months on cyber security, Afghanistan, Iran, Ukraine and Korea, as well as face-to-face meetings of the heads of the CIA, FBI, National Security Council and Pentagon with their Russian counterparts before the Trump-Putin summit, to be followed by the relaunching of bilateral working groups on counter-terrorism and cybersecurity. (The Kremlin confirmed the proposal’s existence and the White House did not dispute it; at the end of August, Russia’s newly appointed ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov had mentioned such a proposal in his first lengthy interview to the Russian press.)

That Putin thought in March that he could achieve such a reset is remarkable. Two months earlier, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence had publicly concluded that the Russian government had sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election and somewhere along the way had “developed a clear preference” for Trump; the House and Senate intelligence committees were set to conduct their own investigations. (By January Trump had reluctantly publicly accepted Russia’s meddling, but continued to insist it had not affected the election results and would later say other actors may have been to blame.) Congress at the time was also gearing up to impose new sanctions on Russia. As Sen. Lindsey Graham predicted at the Munich Security Conference in February: “2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress.”

Moreover, Trump’s national security advisor had been forced to resign due to his contacts with Russia’s ambassador. American and international media were churning out one expose after another concerning alleged collusion between Trump’s team and Russian insiders. A number of Trump’s high-level appointees, including Defense Secretary Mattis, UN Ambassador Haley and the new national security advisor, Gen. McMaster, expressed pointed criticism of Russia. The American public, as demonstrated by the polls, was increasingly both in favor of punishing the Kremlin and viewing Russia as a threat, with only 22 percent of Americans holding a favorable opinion of Putin (that would drop to 13 percent by summer).

Faced with all these developments, Trump, typically optimistic about the potential for improved relations with Russia, didn’t even mention the country in his Feb. 28 address to Congress.

And yet it follows from BuzzFeed’s scoop that Putin believed Trump could somehow not only keep his campaign promise to seek improved relations, but also launch a broad partnership with a country that American intelligence services and media were accusing of having interfered in U.S. domestic politics on a scale and with tools dubbed “unprecedented”—interference that was the subject of multiple pending investigations in Congress.

This suggests Putin may misunderstand how the U.S government actually operates, and that there’s no one in his close circle of advisors who either comprehends this or dares to clear it up. Putin probably thinks the U.S. president can just implement any policies he wants—that the U.S. system of checks and balances is a simulacrum just like Russia’s.

This misconception and Putin’s skeptical view of U.S. democracy might also explain why the Russian president may have decided to try to influence the outcome of the 2016 election (if indeed he did so) in the first place. His thinking might have been that if only someone Russia-friendly succeeded Barack Obama in the White House, he could single-handedly mend fences with that leader. What he perhaps didn’t realize is that even if it were Sergei Ivanov sitting in the White House, he’d still face the same robust constraints as Trump. The reality is that if Putin had done nothing to interfere, the U.S. president—whether Hillary Clinton or Trump—would have been able to pursue a more constructive policy toward Russia.

Snapshot Analysis: Pew Survey Indicates More People Trust Putin Than Trump Across World. Why?

Snapshot Analysis: Pew Survey Indicates More People Trust Putin Than Trump Across World. Why?

teaser Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met on sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on July 7, 2017 Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met on sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on July 7, 2017 Pew Survey Indicates More People Trust Putin Than Trump Across World. Why?August 17, 2017RM STAFFPew has just released a summary of its Spring 2017 survey of residents of 37 American, Asian, African and European countries who were asked to express their views on Russia, the United States and China – and the results are remarkable. A median of only 26 percent of those surveyed have confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” while a median of 60 percent have no such confidence. This was still, however, sufficient for the Russian leader to beat out U.S. President Donald Trump. Respondents in as many as 22 out of 36 countries trust Putin more than Trump, according to the poll. (In Tanzania, an equal share of respondents trusted Putin and Trump.) It is quite astounding that in spite of having taken Crimea from Ukraine, stirred trouble in Donbass, and intervened militarily in Syria, Putin is still enjoying greater confidence than Trump in the majority of the countries polled.
Perhaps Trump would do well to reflect upon his foreign policy, given the fact that more people trust the leader of the country that NATO’s leadership has described as an adversary, including in such NATO countries as Germany, France, Greece and Italy, as well as Japan and South Korea. In addition to flaws in Trump’s policies, the results may also reflect the fact that not all residents of the surveyed countries necessarily share the West’s mistrust of Russia.

Pew has just released a summary of its Spring 2017 survey of residents of 37 American, Asian, African and European countries who were asked to express their views on Russia, the United States and China – and the results are remarkable. A median of only 26 percent of those surveyed have confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin to “do the right thing regarding world affairs,” while a median of 60 percent have no such confidence. This was still, however, sufficient for the Russian leader to beat out U.S. President Donald Trump. Respondents in as many as 22 out of 36 countries trust Putin more than Trump, according to the poll. (In Tanzania, an equal share of respondents trusted Putin and Trump.) It is quite astounding that in spite of having taken Crimea from Ukraine, stirred trouble in Donbass, and intervened militarily in Syria, Putin is still enjoying greater confidence than Trump in the majority of the countries polled.

Perhaps Trump would do well to reflect upon his foreign policy, given the fact that more people trust the leader of the country that NATO’s leadership has described as an adversary, including in such NATO countries as Germany, France, Greece and Italy, as well as Japan and South Korea. In addition to flaws in Trump’s policies, the results may also reflect the fact that not all residents of the surveyed countries necessarily share the West’s mistrust of Russia. The countries where 50 percent or more trust Putin are Greece (50 percent), the Philippines (54 percent), Vietnam (79 percent), and Tanzania (51 percent). Greeks are obviously historically predisposed toward Russia, while in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte’s repeated vows to seek closer ties with Russia might play a role. The Vietnamese also traditionally view Russia, which aids them militarily and prevents excessive pressure from China, as an ally.In contrast, 74 percent of Americans have no confidence in Putin, which should come as no surprise given the Ukraine crisis and alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Similar reasons can explain why, according to Pew, “Europe is the region least confident in Putin, with a median of 78 percent expressing a lack of confidence in the Russian president.”Neither Putin nor Trump have seen their perceptions improve since 2016, when Pew last surveyed the global favorability of the leaders. Confidence in Putin as a world leader among a smaller group of European and Asian nations was comparable to its level in 2017, around 20 percent. For Trump, who was the presumptive Republican presidential candidate at the time of the survey, trust was even lower. Only in two countries, China and Italy, did more than 20 percent trust Trump as a world leader. In contrast, more than half of respondents in all but one of the 15 countries surveyed in 2016 had confidence in then-U.S. President Barack Obama.

The 2017 survey also finds that people hold an unfavorable view of Russian as a country in roughly half of the 37 nations surveyed. The only countries where 50 percent or more view Russia favorably are the Philippines (55 percent), Vietnam (83 percent) and Greece (64 percent).  People in the surveyed countries generally don’t view the Russian government favorably when it comes to respecting personal freedoms. A median of only 30 percent believe that Russia adheres to this democratic idea. This is higher than it is for China (25 percent), but considerably lower than it is for France (60 percent) and the U.S. (54 percent).In contrast, 63 percent of Americans hold negative views of Russia, while in Europe, a median of 61 percent hold unfavorable views of Russia. At the same time, the share of Americans who feel favorably toward Russia has increased from 22 percent in 2015 to 29 percent today. The improvement in attitudes has been even more notable on the Russian side. While just 15 percent of Russians in 2015 felt favorably toward the U.S., some 41 percent did in the spring of 2017. We are betting, however, that Russians have cooled toward America since the spring, as hopes for mending fences under Trump have proven largely futile in spite of his meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Germany in July. Interestingly, in spite of the fact that Russia is predominantly a Christian Orthodox country, only 38 percent of Christians in Lebanon view it favorably, while 83 percent of Shiites do. This also is, perhaps,  a reflection of Russia’s operation in Syria, where Moscow supports an Alawite-led regime in alliance with Iran.

Despite being mistrusted and viewed unfavorably by many, Russia is not regarded as a major threat. Only a median of 31 percent in the countries surveyed consider Russia threatening. This is identical to the perceptions of China and comparable to perceptions of America (a median of 35 percent view the U.S. as a threat). The only countries where more than 50 percent see Russia as a major threat are Poland (65 percent) and Turkey (51 percent). This is not surprising in either case. Poland has been repeatedly conquered by Russia in the past, while Turkey has lost a number of wars to the Russian Empire. More recently, tensions between the two countries flared over the conflict in Syria and the shooting down of a Russian warplane by a Turkish fighter jet.  Interestingly, with the exception of Turkey, majorities in Middle Eastern countries do not view Russia as a threat, which is significant given Russia’s operation in Syria. In America, meanwhile, some 47 percent view Russia as a threat, and a median of 39 percent in Europe view Russia as a menace. Our hunch is that the results would have been more favorable to Russia in Europe and Asia if residents of such allies as China and Serbia were included in the survey—and this would have impacted its global median scores.

Photo from official Kremlin site.

 

 

 

How Good Is Putin at Spearfishing Really?

How Good Is Putin at Spearfishing Really?

teaser Russian President Vladimir Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu relaxing shirtless on a boat in Siberia. Russian President Vladimir Putin with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu relaxing shirtless on a boat in Siberia. How Good Is Putin at Spearfishing Really?August 08, 2017Simon SaradzhyanThat Vladimir Putin went spearfishing the other day isn’t surprising. He’s reportedly done it before, as have Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Medvedev’s deputy Dmitry Rogozin and even Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But never before this weekend’s Siberia trip has there been footage of the president actually shooting fish, as released by NTV, the Defense Ministry’s Zvezda channel and then RT.

Alas, while shots of Putin’s spearfishing expedition may impress those with no knowledge of the sport (likely the bulk of his voters), seasoned spearos in and out of Russia, who know about diving for fish “on breath hold,” will see little more than a novice—no matter how many times state-controlled TV channels tell them the Russian president “chased a giant pike for two hours before catching it with [his] bare hands.”

The author, director of the Russia Matters Project, has been spearfishing for over 20 years.

That Vladimir Putin went spearfishing the other day isn’t surprising. He’s reportedly done it before, as have Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, Medvedev’s deputy Dmitry Rogozin and even Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. But never before this weekend’s Siberia trip has there been footage of the president actually shooting fish, as released by NTV, the Defense Ministry’s Zvezda channel and then RT.

Alas, while shots of Putin’s spearfishing expedition may impress those with no knowledge of the sport (likely the bulk of his voters), seasoned spearos in and out of Russia, who know about diving for fish “on breath hold,” will see little more than a novice—no matter how many times state-controlled TV channels tell them the Russian president “chased a giant pike for two hours before catching it with [his] bare hands.”

The released videos show that Putin doesn’t even dive to shoot his prey. Instead, he swims on the surface of the water and shoots a pike—of rather modest size for the wilds of Siberia, even if RT did call it “giant.” (Here I must add that pike is sometimes speared from the surface in shallow rivers: You glide down the current, watching for pike hiding in grass or amid sunken branches. But in lakes or slow-moving parts of rivers, spearos typically dive down and then slowly explore or lie on the bottom, hoping the predator will come check them out. That kind of ambush technique is far more challenging, as it requires diving skills, including knowing how to equalize pressure, as well as the ability to cause as little commotion as possible when descending and to hold your breath for a considerable amount of time.)

Another sign of Putin’s lack of skill is that the Russian leader doesn’t even dive to retrieve his speared trophy. The NTV footage clearly shows someone else, with a camera on his forehead, diving down to take hold of the fish and then helping Putin handle it. And no way did Putin catch the pike “with his bare hands" as claimed in Zvezda’s headline for the video.

That Putin holds the pike by the eyes shows that his spearfishing instructor/cameraman, who appears to hand him the fish, knows a thing or two. The fact that this assistant is wearing a smooth-skin freediving suit—which is more elastic and generates less friction, but can easily be torn if not handled with care—also indicates he has some diving skills and experience.

Putin in wetsuit preparing to get in water

Zvezda’s footage also clearly shows that the Russian president doesn’t know the technique of swimming in long free-diving fins—instead of making long movements from the hip with legs outstretched, as free divers and free-diving spearos do, he makes frequent up-down movements with knees bent, which is what novices instinctively do.

Rather than carry weights on a diving belt on his waist, Putin wore a diving vest. This can be hazardous in freshwater because the vest can get entangled in sunken trees and isn’t as easy to ditch as belt. But this could be to protect his back, which has given him trouble before, because carrying weights on a belt puts a lot of pressure on your back.

On the positive side, you’ve got to hand it to Putin: That was a pretty good shot, given his distance, the length of the gun and the angle. That said, if Putin really did “chase the pike for two hours” as his spokesman said, then we don’t know how many times he shot and missed before finally nailing the sharp-toothed beast. Interestingly, two different spear tips appear in the footage. In RT’s, Putin is shown jumping into the water with a speargun whose shaft ends in a trident, which also appears in Zvezda’s footage. NTV’s footage, however, shows Putin firing at the pike and swimming back with it with a shaft that ends in a single bullet-like tip.

I’d also note that Putin was not practicing what he preaches in terms of “import substitution”: He was wearing a diving suit by OMER, an Italian brand that recently became part of California-based Aqua Lung (whose suit, incidentally, Putin wore to retrieve ancient jugs from shallow waters in the Black Sea in a photo-op that invited criticism for being staged). The rear-handled pneumatic speargun that he used for the shot also looked to be a classical European design, most likely Italian or French, in contrast to Russian-made spearguns, which normally sport a handle in the middle, giving more maneuverability in murkier waters and around submerged trees. Prime Minister Medvedev is more oriented toward Russian producers in his choice of suits: He’s switched from an American Riffe to Neopro, one of Russia’s leading manufacturers.

Photos from official Kremlin website.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.

Just What Does He See in Him? 8 Theories on Trump’s Affection for Putin

Just What Does He See in Him? 8 Theories on Trump’s Affection for Putin

full Trump and Putin shaking hands August 04, 2017RM Staff

Donald Trump’s seeming admiration for Vladimir Putin—whether real or imagined, reciprocal or unilateral—has spawned much speculation. The story dates back at least to 2013, when, ahead of the Miss Universe pageant he had brought to Moscow, Trump wondered if the Russian president would show up and “become my new best friend.” As president, amid mounting talk of possible collusion between his campaign and Russia, Trump has tried to distance himself from Putin—backtracking on earlier claims that they’d spoken “directly” and had a “relationship”—but the two leaders’ much-longer-than-planned July meeting in Germany and the bonhomie that followed suggest that the U.S. president’s positive feelings for Putin have endured.

So how to explain this apparent affection? We submit eight hypotheses, with the caveat that no single explanation will likely suffice and that a combination of the factors outlined below might be at play. And we’re asking readers to weigh in: Which do you think is the most plausible? Or perhaps you have your own theory? If so, select “Other” and explain in the comments.

Hypothesis 1: The Kissinger worldview. Trump’s affinity for Putin may be based on the pragmatic recognition that good relations with Russia are important to advancing a number of vital U.S. interests, not least of them counter-terrorism, non-proliferation and avoiding a nuclear war. Trump shares the viewpoint of Henry Kissinger, who has cast Russia as America’s “Siamese twin” in maintaining a semblance of world order. Here’s some direct evidence:

  • Trump has met with Kissinger on several occasions to seek advice; Putin regularly meets with Kissinger for informal discussions with a view to have his points relayed to policymakers in the U.S. (See our collection of Kissinger’s insights and recommendations on Russia.) In his public statements, Trump has suggested that good relations with Putin’s Russia are a matter of realpolitik:
    • “Folks, we have perhaps the second most powerful nuclear country in the world. If you don't have dialogue, you have to be fools,” he said. (CNN, 07.13.17, Reuters, 07.13.17)
    • “Wouldn't it be nice if we got along with the world, and maybe Russia could help us in our quest to get rid of ISIS?” (New York Times, 03.04.16)
    • U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—who consider Russia a major threat—“should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.” (Politico, 01.29.17)

Hypothesis 2: Admiration for strong leaders. Putin’s management style—that of an unrestricted, sole decision-maker—comes close to that of a powerful business executive, an approach Trump prides himself on bringing to the management of the country. Trump may have a predisposition for strong leaders who can make difficult decisions and execute them, overriding dissent and avoiding the continuous weighing of pros and cons, as exemplified, in Trump’s view, by former President Barack Obama. Here’s some direct evidence:

  • Trump has repeatedly praised Putin’s strong leadership, during and after his presidential campaign. (See our collection of Trump’s comments on Putin.) During a Republican presidential debate, Trump said: “I think Putin has been a very strong leader for Russia. I think he has been a lot stronger than our leader, that I can tell you. … I don’t say that in a good way or a bad way. I say it as a fact.” (CNN, 03.15.16)
  • Trump said of Putin during a town hall ahead of the election: “The man has very strong control over a country. Now, it's a very different system, and I don't happen to like the system. But certainly, in that system, he's been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader.” (Washington Post, 09.07.16)
  • Trump continued to draw a distinction between Putin and Obama after he took office. “For eight years Russia 'ran over' President Obama, got stronger and stronger, picked-off Crimea and added missiles. Weak!” Trump tweeted. (Twitter, 03.07.17)

Hypothesis 3: Respect for Russia’s history of resilience and strength. Trump might be admiring not just Putin personally but Russians’ role in history, as fighters against Napoleon, Hitler and Genghis Kahn. Trump respects Putin for his effort to rebuild the military strength of Russia and recapture some of the glory of the Russian Empire.

  • Direct evidence: Speaking about the historical reputation of the Russian military, Trump said: “The Russians have great fighters in the cold. They use the cold to their advantage. I mean, they’ve won five wars where the armies that went against them froze to death. … It’s pretty amazing.” (New York Times, 07.19.17)
  • Circumstantial evidence: Shortly after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which drew international condemnation, Trump tweeted: “I believe Putin will continue to re-build the Russian Empire. He has zero respect for Obama or the U.S.!” (Twitter, 03.21.14)
  • Big “but”: At the same time, Trump is not known for his appreciation for or mastery of history. He reportedly has a short attention span and little interest in reading. He also stirred up a great deal of criticism from historians with comments he made this spring about the Civil War and Andrew Jackson. (CNN, 05.22.17)

Hypothesis 4: Cultural affinity for Russians. Trump might feel a cultural affinity for Russians in general. If true, this likely has less to do with Pushkin and Prokofiev than with certain common traits of Americans and Russians. Both share a kind of “W­ild West” mentality, having conquered large swaths of territory, and their citizens have a reputation for being resourceful, assertive or even brash, often too much so for the taste of Western Europeans. Here’s some circumstantial evidence:

  • In October 2013, Trump told “Late Show” host David Letterman: “I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians. They’re smart and they’re tough and they’re not looking so dumb right now… He’s a tough guy, Putin.” (YouTube, 10.22.13)
  • In February 2014, Trump said on “Fox and Friends”: “When I went to Russia with the Miss Universe pageant, [Putin] contacted me and was so nice. I mean, the Russian people were so fantastic to us… I’ll just say this, they are doing—they’re outsmarting us at many turns, as we all understand. I mean, their leaders are, whether you call them smarter or more cunning or whatever, but they’re outsmarting us.” (Archive.org, 02.014.17)
  • Anthony Scaramucci, a financier and ardent Trump backer who would briefly serve as the president’s communications director, said that Western sanctions against Russia had backfired “in some ways … because of Russian culture. I think the Russians would eat snow if they had to.” (Newsweek, 07.21.17)

Hypothesis 5: He’s a contrarian. Perhaps Trump, who has shown a willingness to buck conventional wisdom and court controversy for the sake of publicity, isn’t really enamored of Putin. Rather, he has expressed admiration for him precisely because others in the West lambasted him after the Ukrainian crisis erupted. He might have even changed his opinion of Putin, whatever it really was, but clung to his public views feeling some sort of pressure to remain consistent. Here’s some circumstantial evidence:

  • Trump has expressed other views related to Russia that are highly unorthodox, especially in Republican circles. In 2013, Trump sided with Putin after he took issue with then-President Obama’s use of the term “American exceptionalism”: “You think of the term as being fine, but all of sudden you say, what if you’re in Germany or Japan or any one of 100 different countries? You’re not going to like that term,” Trump told CNN. “It’s very insulting and Putin really put it to him [Obama] about that.” (BuzzFeed, 08.01.16)
  • In response to the claim that Putin is a “killer,” Trump said: “There are a lot of killers. Do you think our country is so innocent?” (CNN, 02.06.17)
  • Ahead of the vote in Congress in late July for a new set of sanctions against Russia, his then-communications director Anthony Scaramucci said that Trump “may sign the sanctions exactly the way they are, or he may veto the sanctions and negotiate an even tougher deal against the Russians.” He cited Trump’s “counterintuitive, counterpunching personality” to explain why the president is considering a veto. (AP, 07.27.17)

Hypothesis 6: Ideological affinity. Trump (or, rather, some of his advisors) might admire the conservative values that Putin has been championing and that the West has been gradually losing. Both leaders have stressed the importance of faith and cultivated ties with religious groups, the Russian Orthodox Church in Putin’s case and conservative Christian groups in Trump’s. Here’s some circumstantial evidence:

  • Trump hired as his chief advisor Steve Bannon, an outspoken critic of Western liberalism. Bannon has stated that the greatest mistake the baby boomers made was to reject the traditional “Judeo-Christian” values of their parents. In a 2014 talk at the Vatican, Bannon made it clear that Putin was “playing very strongly to U.S. social conservatives about his message about more traditional values.” As a recent Atlantic essay argued, Putin has realized that “large patches of the West despised feminism and the gay-rights movement,” and he has transformed himself into the “New World Leader of Conservatism,” whose traditionalism offers an alternative to the libertine West that has long shunned him. (The Atlantic, 03.27.17)
  • Trump has himself staked out such positions. In a July 2017 speech in Warsaw (which was believed to have been heavily influenced by Bannon), Trump declared: “The people of Poland, the people of America and the people of Europe still cry out ‘We want God.’” (New York Times, 07.11.17, The White House, 07.06.17)
  • While Trump signaled support for LGBT rights during his campaign, he recently announced, in a stark reversal from a policy instituted by former President Obama, that trans-gender people would be banned from the military. The move was one of several that antagonized gay-rights groups. (CNN, 06.13.16, New York Times, 07.27.17)

Hypothesis 7: Financial gain. Trump might view a good relationship with Putin as a way to further expand his business empire. In this way, Trump’s approach to Putin represents a continuation of efforts dating back to the late 1980s to build relationships with powerful Russian government and business leaders. Here’s some circumstantial evidence:

  • Trump wrote in his 1987 book “Art of the Deal” that he was interested in partnering with the Soviet government to build a luxury hotel in Moscow, and he planned to give then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev a tour of Trump Tower in 1988. (The Washington Post, 12.03.88)
  • The Trump family and its businesses have reportedly long pursued Russian investors and deals in Russia and former Soviet republics. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference that he had been averaging a trip to Russia about every three months for the past year and a half, but suggested that the Trump Organization, the family business, didn’t have the adequate connections to safeguard investments: “It is definitely not an issue of being able to find a deal—but an issue of ‘Will I ever see my money back out of that deal or can I actually trust the person I am doing the deal with?’ As much as we want to take our business over there, Russia is just a different world. … [I]t is a question of who knows who, whose brother is paying off who, etc.” He added: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross section of a lot of our assets. … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” (New Republic, 07.13.17, New York Magazine, 07.11.17, McClatchy, 06.28.17, USA Today, 02.15.17, The Daily Beast, 01.11.17)
  • Unlike past presidents, Trump has refused to place his business holdings and investments into a blind trust; he has instead placed them in a “revocable trust,” controlled by his adult sons, and the president was able, as of April, “to withdraw profits and underlying assets from his trust at any time.” (CNBC, 06.12.17, BBC, 04.18.17, ProPublica, 04.04.17, Politico, 01.11.17)

Hypothesis 8: Russia has compromising materials on him. Trump may feel compelled to stay on Putin’s good side because the Russians might have kompromat—compromising materials—on him. The existence of kompromat was a central claim in the so-called Steele dossier, compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele as part of opposition research against Trump during the 2016 campaign. The document alleges that the Kremlin had been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Trump for at least five years and amassed a file on him that includes videos of him engaged in lurid sexual activities. Here’s some speculative, uncorroborated evidence:

  • The Steele report alleges that there was an “extensive conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin that was “sanctioned at the highest levels.” If there were contacts between the campaign and Russian officials that have not been revealed, this may give the Kremlin some leverage over Trump. All sources in the Steele report are anonymous, and only a few of its claims have been independently confirmed since it surfaced publicly in early 2017. However, the FBI is investigating allegations of collusion under the oversight of an independent special counsel. The supposedly compromising materials against Hillary Clinton that were promised to Donald Trump Jr. ahead of his controversial June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer allegedly came from Russia’s prosecutor general, who has been described as a master of kompromat. (Steele report, Jan. 2017, New York Times, 07.17.17)
  • Citing three sources, the Steele report describes a specific sexual encounter involving Trump and multiple women in a suite at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in 2013. But like all sources in the report, these are anonymous, and there’s been no independent confirmation of the incident or other sexual allegations. Moreover, the negligible damage to Trump’s presidential aspirations done by the “Access Hollywood” scandal casts some doubt on the idea that such kompromat would give the Kremlin sway over him. (Steele report, Jan. 2017)
  • Media reports have said that Trump owes much of his wealth to “a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia,” including millions in illicitly gained funds. As the New Republic recently reported, “To date, no one has documented that Trump was even aware of any suspicious entanglements in his far-flung businesses, let alone that he was directly compromised by the Russian mafia or the corrupt oligarchs who are closely allied with the Kremlin. So far, when it comes to Trump’s ties to Russia, there is no smoking gun.” This, of course, raises the question: Might the Russian government have one?

What best explains Trumps seeming admiration for Putin?

Choices

Latest Diplomatic Rift Places US, Russia on Edge of ‘Tipping Point’

Latest Diplomatic Rift Places US, Russia on Edge of ‘Tipping Point’

teaser Gloomy black and white Moscow, Russia. Gloomy black and white Moscow, Russia. Latest Diplomatic Rift Places US, Russia on Edge of ‘Tipping Point’ July 31, 2017Paul SaundersRussia’s decision to expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats represents a dangerous turn in bilateral relations and could easily accelerate a dangerous escalatory spiral.

The Russian government’s recent announcement of its decision to eject American diplomats and block access to two  diplomatic properties may signal an approaching tipping point in the United States-Russia relationship. Trump administration officials and members of Congress should consider very carefully how to proceed.

While the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official announcement of Moscow’s latest moves focused primarily on Russia’s complaints about a new sanctions bill approved by Congress, Russia’s actions appeared to be a belated tit-for-tat response to the Obama administration’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats and seizure of two diplomatic compounds over Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. Importantly, the Foreign Ministry statement explicitly noted that Russia’s government reserved the right to impose further measures in response to any U.S. steps. This was a clear warning to the U.S., and it followed increasingly impatient Russian demands that Washington return the two properties taken late last year.

The most immediate question for the administration is whether and when President Donald Trump will sign the latest sanctions into law, something that seems likely to happen soon.  Separately, the U.S. is  reportedly considering providing lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, as well as longer-term measures to retaliate for Russia’s suspected election-related hacking initiated by the Obama administration. There’s been no indication so far that Trump has put implementation of these measures on hold. For its part, Moscow will also have to decide whether to respond further if Trump signs the sanctions legislation. Moscow has many options in responding to an announcement that the U.S. will arm Ukraine or to covert American cyber actions against Russia. In combination, these processes could easily accelerate a dangerous escalatory spiral.

Rapid escalation of the U.S.-Russia confrontation could be shocking for many Americans, including policymakers, members of Congress and journalists, among others. Indeed, while many have come to agree with the view offered by 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, that Russia is America’s “number one geopolitical foe,” few seem to remember what it truly means to face a powerful enemy state. This is in part because since the Cold War, America has generally chosen to confront only weak to middling states, such as Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea. It is also in part because the U.S. media has tended to conflate refusal to cooperate with active opposition to U.S. objectives.

In practice, however, there is a big difference between failing to cooperate and pursuing energetic resistance to the U.S. It is the difference between refusing to pressure eastern Ukrainian rebels to give in to Kiev and directly invading and seizing a large portion of Ukraine. Or between vetoing additional sanctions on North Korea and offering economic and military assistance to Pyongyang. Or between disagreeing over who is a terrorist and providing weapons, money and other help to terrorist organizations targeting Americans. If Moscow’s foreign policy reaches and passes the tipping point between the former of these behaviors and the latter, Russia could seriously harm U.S. national security interests in ways Americans have not experienced for decades.

From a historical perspective, the present period has something in common with both the 1950s, when the Red Scare spurred a search for enemies within, and the 1980s, when late Cold War tensions peaked. Yet today’s tensions are also quite different in that the Cold War Soviet Union was already a demonstrably hostile power. Russia has not yet irreversibly crossed this threshold. In fact, in some ways the current situation is like a reverse version of the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union gradually stopped working against U.S. interests and Americans gradually stopped considering the U.S.S.R. to be an enemy. We may soon cross this invisible line in the opposite direction.

For more than 20 years, U.S. policymakers have enjoyed the luxury of formulating American foreign policy with few constraints and often with only cursory evaluation of how others may respond to Washington’s decisions. The U.S. was the world’s only superpower—a nation that none dared challenge head-on and that few deliberately angered. If Washington and Moscow enter a real confrontation—beyond the recent spasmodic bouts of mutual frustration—America’s policy elites may find that their earlier dismissive attitudes toward Russia’s perspectives and capabilities will prove quite costly. Alternatively, policymakers could take a hard look at U.S.-Russia relations before reaching that point and try to find a way out of this mess.

Paul Saunders is the executive director of the Center for the National Interest. 

The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.

Asking Our Readers: Did Russian Election Interference Backfire?

Asking Our Readers: Did Russian Election Interference Backfire?

full Russian President Putin examines a racecar July 27, 2017

Only six months ago the future must have looked promising to Vladimir Putin as he sought to end his isolation by Western leaders: Donald Trump was settling into the White House amid reports of champagne corks flying in Moscow and Francois Fillon was the presidential frontrunner in Paris. Now prospects seem dimmer, with Congress this week pushing for more sanctions on Russia for its attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential elections as concluded by the U.S. Intelligence Community. And that raises a question: If Putin did seek to influence the outcome of elections in the U.S. and France, did his gamble pay off? Did the benefits of doing so exceed the costs? We have already asked Nikolas Gvosdev to explore this question and we expect to post his answer this week, but we also want to ask you: Looking back, how do you assess Russian leaders’ alleged decisions about Western election interference?

Did they backfire?

Choices

Photo from Vladimir Putin's official website.

Russian Election Interference in Trump’s Own Words

Russian Election Interference in Trump’s Own Words

teaser Trump and Putin in Hamburg Trump and Putin in Hamburg Russian Election Interference in Trump’s Own WordsJuly 13, 2017RM StaffAllegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race first surfaced more than a year ago. Since then, Donald Trump—as a candidate, as president-elect and finally as president—has weighed in on the topic. In some ways, his position has evolved: from saying that the story of Russian interference was spread (and possibly invented) by sore-losing Democrats to conceding that Russia was behind the hacks of Democrats’ computer systems, and ultimately to confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin about the allegations. But in other ways, Trump’s position has remained consistent: He maintains that even if Russia did interfere, that had no impact on the election’s outcome; he has repeatedly expressed doubt that Russia was behind the hacks (even after publicly saying it was); he has insisted that his campaign did not have any back-door dealings with Russia, calling claims to the contrary part of a political “witch hunt”; and he has defended those close to him as they have been accused of colluding with Moscow.

A declassified version of a report by the U.S. Intelligence Community said in January that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” whose “goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The intelligence officials “further assess[ed that] Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and that they used various means—including cyber and disinformation—in pursuit of their goals. At least three investigations are ongoing: one probe by a Justice Department-appointed special counsel and one each by the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Below, we try to trace the arc of Trump’s comments on the topic of Russian election interference. This is an evolving draft that may be updated in the future and an expanded version including Trump’s comments on all things Russia will appear under our Competing Views rubric.

Allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race first surfaced more than a year ago. Since then, Donald Trump—as a candidate, as president-elect and finally as president—has weighed in on the topic. In some ways, his position has evolved: from saying that the story of Russian interference was spread (and possibly invented) by sore-losing Democrats to conceding that Russia was behind the hacks of Democrats’ computer systems, and ultimately to confronting Russian President Vladimir Putin about the allegations. But in other ways, Trump’s position has remained consistent: He maintains that even if Russia did interfere, that had no impact on the election’s outcome; he has repeatedly expressed doubt that Russia was behind the hacks (even after publicly saying it was); he has insisted that his campaign did not have any back-door dealings with Russia, calling claims to the contrary part of a political “witch hunt”; and he has defended those close to him as they have been accused of colluding with Moscow.

A declassified version of a report by the U.S. Intelligence Community said in January that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” whose “goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency.” The intelligence officials “further assess[ed that] Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump” and that they used various means—including cyber and disinformation—in pursuit of their goals. Several investigations are ongoing—one probe by a Justice Department-appointed special counsel and a few more in various committees of the House of Representatives and Senate.

Below, we try to trace the arc of Trump’s comments on the topic of Russian election interference. This is an evolving draft that may be updated in the future; an expanded version including Trump’s comments on all things Russia appears under our Competing Views rubric.

  • July 2016: After Wikileaks released some 20,000 emails from a breach of the Democratic National Convention’s computers, which the DNC blamed on Russia, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails [of Hillary Clinton] that are missing. … They probably have them. I’d like to have them released.” He later said he was being “sarcastic,” but repeatedly said the story about his close ties to Russia was untrue and was being spread by Democrats angry over their candidate’s loss. On July 27 Trump tweeted: “Funny how the failing @nytimes is pushing Dems narrative that Russia is working for me because Putin said ‘Trump is a genius.’ America 1st!” (The Washington Post, 06.01.17, AP, 07.28.16)
  • September 2016: Trump told RT, a Russian state-funded television network, on Sept. 8 that "it's probably unlikely" that Russia is trying to influence the U.S. election. When Larry King, a veteran American journalist whose show airs on RT America, asked about reports that U.S. intelligence agencies are investigating whether Russia is trying to disrupt the election through cyberattacks, Trump said, “I think maybe the Democrats are putting that out… If they are doing something, I hope that somebody's going to be able to find out, so they can end it, because that would not be appropriate at all." (RFE/RL, 09.09.16)
  • October 2016: Speaking on Oct. 9 at the second presidential debate—two days after U.S. intelligence agencies said they were “confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations”—Trump said: “I notice anytime anything wrong happens, they like to say the Russians are—she [Hillary Clinton] doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia.” (The Washington Post, 10.09.16, 06.01.17)

 

I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point—not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, 'Oh, Russia interfered.’ It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.
  • December 2016: As president-elect, Trump said in a Dec. 11 interview that he did not believe American intelligence assessments that Russia had intervened to help his candidacy, casting blame for the reports on Democrats, who he said were embarrassed about losing to him. "I don't believe they interfered. That became a laughing point—not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, 'Oh, Russia interfered.’ It could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey. I think the Democrats are putting it out because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics in this country,” Trump said. His transition team said: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’” (The Washington Post, 12.09.16, The Washington Post, 12.09.16, The Washington Post, 12.09.16. New York Times, 12.11.16, New York Times, 12.11.16)
    • Trump returned to the topic on Twitter on Dec. 15: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?” he tweeted. (New York Times, 12.15.16)
    • Hours after the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies and issued sweeping new sanctions against Moscow on Dec. 29, Trump said it was “time for the country to move on to bigger and better things” but also promised to study the related allegations more closely: “[I]n the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” the president-elect said in a statement. When Putin surprised U.S. officials the following day by saying he would not retaliate with a tit-for-tat expulsions, Trump tweeted: “Great move on the delay” and, in in reference to the Russian president, “I always knew he was very smart.” (The Washington Post, 12.29.16, The Washington Post, 02.09.17)

 

I think it was Russia.
  • January 2017: An unverified dossier accusing Russia of gathering sexually explicit material to blackmail Trump has been published online by Buzzfeed. Trump vigorously denied the swirl of allegations, calling it “fake news” and praising Putin for saying it was false. Trump called BuzzFeed “a pile of garbage” for publishing the allegations. In comments made before a Jan. 11 news conference, Trump said that “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me” and criticized intelligence agencies, saying they “should never have allowed this fake news to ‘leak’ into the public.” “One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Trump said. (RFE/RL, 01.07.17, The Moscow Times, 01.09.17, RFE/RL, 01.07.17)
    • Trump conceded for the first time that Russia was behind the hacking of Democrats’ computer systems during the presidential election. “I think it was Russia,” Trump said at the Jan. 11 press conference. Trump and most fellow Republicans in Congress have concluded that while Russia may have hacked the November election, it had no influence on the outcome. Trump has also vowed to take aggressive action to stop cyberattacks, but prior to seeing the classified intelligence report on Jan. 6, insisted in an interview with the New York Times that the storm over Russian hacking was a "political witch-hunt." Trump said on Jan. 13 that his administration would produce a full report on hacking within the first 90 days of his presidency and accused “my political opponents and a failed spy” of making “phony allegations” against him. (Bloomberg, 01.13.17, RFE/RL, 01.07.17, The Moscow Times, 01.09.17, RFE/RL, 01.07.17)
    • Trump called for a congressional investigation of NBC News for reporting the contents of a classified intelligence report about alleged Russian computer hacking targeting U.S. elections. (NBC reported that the document concludes, among other things, that the hacks were payback for the Obama administration's questioning of Putin's legitimacy as Russia's president.) Trump earlier quoted WikiLeaks founder and fugitive Julian Assange questioning the Russians’ role in hacking Democrats’ emails. However, Trump then wrote that it was "wrong" for media reports to suggest he agrees with Assange, who has maintained he didn't receive the stolen information from the Russian government. (RFE/RL, 01.06.17, , The Moscow Times, 01.04.17, Bloomberg, 01.03.17, Wall Street Journal, 01.05.17, RFE/RL, 01.06.17)

 

The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American! ... This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.
  • February 2017: Trump says it's not fair "the haters" tie him to Putin when former U.S. President Barack Obama was the one who struck a deal with Iran. Trump tweeted Feb. 6: "I don't know Putin, have no deals in Russia and the haters are going crazy—yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!" About a week later, Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, stepped down amid allegations that he had met with Russia’s ambassador before Trump’s inauguration and discussed ending sanctions against Moscow. A day after Flynn resigned, Trump defended him on Twitter, saying he was “a wonderful man” who was “treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases.” (AP, 02.07.17, CNN, 02.15.17, Newsweek, 05.18.17)
    • At the same time Trump responded to a New York Times report that his campaign aides and associates “had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before” the November 2016 election. In a string of tweets Feb. 15 Trump took aim at targets ranging from “the fake news media” to “Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign” to “the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?),” which he said was “just like Russia.” “Crimea was TAKEN by Russia during the Obama Administration. Was Obama too soft on Russia?” Trump tweeted. “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!” "This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign."  (Bloomberg, 02.15.17, Reuters, 02.15.17)
  • March 2017: As FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee and confirmed the bureau is probing potential ties between Trump’s associates and Russia during the 2016 campaign, Trump tweeted: “Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia.” Trump also said that claims that his campaign colluded with Russia during the campaign were no more than a political ploy by disenchanted Democrats. Former director of national intelligence “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS,” Trump tweeted on March 20. “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” (Bloomberg, 03.20.17)
  • April 2017: Trump said in an interview that “the Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that.” (New York Times, 04.05.17)
    • Later that month Trump told CBS that the “phony” story about Trump associates’ ties to Russia was being manipulated by the media, which were ignoring the fact that Michael Flynn had been vetted by the Obama administration. “I just heard where General Flynn got his clearance from the Obama administration," Trump said. "And when he went to Russia, I didn't realize this, when he went to Russia, it was 2015, and he was on the Obama clearance." (Politifact, 05.02.17)
    • In the same CBS interview Trump also reverted to doubting U.S. intelligence assessments that Moscow hacked the emails of Democratic officials to meddle with the 2016 presidential election, saying China may have done it instead. “Knowing something about hacking, if you don't catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it's very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I'll go along with Russia. Could've been China, could've been a lot of different groups.” (Reuters, 05.01.17, CBS News, 04.30.17)
The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?
  • May 2017: On May 8 Trump tweeted: "The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?" The next day he fired FBI director Comey and later told NBC: "When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story." The day after the firing he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak in the Oval Office. According to the White House, the meeting took place because “Putin did specifically ask” for it during an earlier telephone conversation with Trump. During the meeting the U.S. president called Comey “crazy, a real nut job,” adding: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” After reports surfaced that he may have revealed classified information about intelligence sources during the meeting, Trump said he had the “absolute right” to share security information on terrorism and aviation safety with the Russians and the White House defended the conversation as “wholly appropriate.” (NBC, 06.07.17, Politico, 05.10.17, CNN, 05.17.17)
  • June 2017: Trump on June 22 called Russia's meddling in the 2016 election "all a big Dem HOAX" and accused Obama of not doing enough last year to "stop" Russian interference. The latter comment came in reference to testimony that the DNC, after it was hacked, declined an offer of help from the Department of Homeland Security. (The Washington Post, 06.22.17, Bloomberg, 06.23.17)

 

I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries ... I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion.
  • July 2017: Ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with Putin Trump said he believes Russia meddled in the 2016 election but maintained that the U.S. may never know for sure, likening the matter to intelligence that had incorrectly said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. “I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries,” Trump told reporters in Warsaw. Asked whether he planned to discuss election meddling with Putin, Trump demurred, saying of Obama: “They say he choked. Well, I don’t think he choked… I think he thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and he said, ‘Let’s not do anything about it.’” Trump also said only ''three or four'' of the United States' 17 intelligence agencies had concluded that Russia interfered in the presidential election. (Bloomberg, 07.06.17, Bloomberg, 07.06.17, New York Times, 07.07.17)
    • Following the meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit meeting in Hamburg, Trump’s official Twitter account retweeted a State Department post: “Sec. Tillerson: @POTUS and Russian President Putin’s meeting was constructive. This is an important relationship.” Trump also said he pressed Putin on claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump tweeted: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion.....” Later that day, Trump signaled a willingness to cooperate closely with Russia on cyber security. “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” he tweeted. A few hours later, following harsh criticism of the idea of such a unit, including some from top Republican lawmakers, Trump appeared to backtrack, tweeting: “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a [Syria] ceasefire can,& did!” (Twitter, 07.07.17, Twitter, 07.09.17, Twitter, 07.09.17, Twitter, 07.09.17, Reuters, 07.09.17, Bloomberg, 07.09.17)
    • After the New York Times reported that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., had met during the presidential campaign with a Russian lawyer on the basis of promises that the Russian government would supply information damaging to Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, the president jumped to his son’s defense, tweeting: “My son, Donald, will be interviewed by @seanhannity tonight at 10:00 P.M. He is a great person who loves our country!” and then “My son Donald did a good job last night. He was open, transparent and innocent. This is the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!” In response to a Washington Times story on the meeting, he wrote: “@WashTimes states ‘Democrats have willfully used Moscow disinformation to influence the presidential election against Donald Trump.’" Trump continued his defense on July 13:  "Most people would have taken that meeting," he said at a news conference in Paris. "It's called opposition research, or research into your opponent." (Twitter, 07.11.17, Twitter, 07.12.17, Twitter, 07.12.17, AP, 07.13.17)

This publication was amended on July 19 to eliminate the phrase "RT's Larry King." The journalist is not an employee of RT.

How to ‘Think Like the Russians’: A Partisan Perception Chart for Improving US-Russian Relations

How to ‘Think Like the Russians’: A Partisan Perception Chart for Improving US-Russian Relations

teaser Putin and Obama Putin and Obama How to ‘Think Like the Russians’: A Partisan Perception Chart for Improving US-Russian RelationsJune 27, 2017Bruce AllynAs readers of this website likely know, U.S.-Russia relations have dropped to a low point reminiscent of the scariest days of the Cold War, and the risk of nuclear miscalculation is the highest it’s been in nearly 55 years. With passions flaring and recriminations flying, how can Washington and Moscow find a calm common language and ratchet down tensions?

My colleagues and I have tried to help in this search by creating a negotiation tool called a partisan perception chart, which can often be a useful way to advance dialogue in confrontational relationships. Such a tool proved helpful in U.S-Soviet “Track 1.5” dialogues on nuclear-risk reduction back at the nadir of the Cold War in the 1980s. As I describe in more detail in a recent article in The National Interest, the chart we designed back then helped both sides see each other’s point of view, move beyond mutual accusation and shift the focus to common interests and reaching concrete agreements.

Below is the new version prepared for 2017, as we see a nuclear déjà vu with a risk of inadvertent war arguably even higher than in the 1980s. The chart seeks to represent important points of view in both countries as a tool to further dialogue. It is meant, in part, to counter some dangerous tendencies in the way human beings process critical information in adversarial situations according to extensive research in the field of negotiation—for example, to perceive one’s own side as more honest and morally upright, while seeing the other as untrustworthy, dishonest and seeking unilateral advantage. The sources for the points of view in the chart include official speeches, published articles and conversations with leading U.S and Russian experts.

It is important to underline that there are major substantive differences between the U.S. and Russia on key issues of sovereignty, use of force, the rules of international decision-making and many others. The chart does not assume that all conflict is just the result of misunderstanding, action-reaction cycles or perceptual bias; nor does it assume moral equivalence. (In the midst of our own hellish Civil War, Abraham Lincoln remained firmly against slavery, yet he still was able to speak of his Confederate adversaries as human beings and envision a union. He famously stated: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”)

This is the aim of a partisan perception chart: to get to know the other side better, to allow both sides to air their grievances, challenge the other side, correct inaccuracies and then move beyond their emotionally charged, opposing positions to begin to address critical underlying interests.

As readers of this website likely know, U.S.-Russia relations have dropped to a low point reminiscent of the scariest days of the Cold War, and the risk of nuclear miscalculation is the highest it’s been in nearly 55 years. With passions flaring and recriminations flying, how can Washington and Moscow find a calm common language and ratchet down tensions?

My colleagues and I have tried to help in this search by creating a negotiation tool called a partisan perception chart, which can often be a useful way to advance dialogue in confrontational relationships. Such a tool proved helpful in U.S-Soviet “Track 1.5” dialogues on nuclear-risk reduction back at the nadir of the Cold War in the 1980s. As I describe in more detail in a recent article in The National Interest, the chart we designed back then helped both sides see each other’s point of view, move beyond mutual accusation and shift the focus to common interests and reaching concrete agreements.

Below is the new version prepared for 2017, as we see a nuclear déjà vu with a risk of inadvertent war arguably even higher than in the 1980s. The chart seeks to represent important points of view in both countries as a tool to further dialogue. It is meant, in part, to counter some dangerous tendencies in the way human beings process critical information in adversarial situations according to extensive research in the field of negotiationfor example, to perceive one’s own side as more honest and morally upright, while seeing the other as untrustworthy, dishonest and seeking unilateral advantage. The sources for the points of view in the chart include official speeches, published articles and conversations with leading U.S. and Russian experts.

It is important to underline that there are major substantive differences between the U.S. and Russia on key issues of sovereignty, use of force, the rules of international decision-making and many others. The chart does not assume that all conflict is just the result of misunderstanding, action-reaction cycles or perceptual bias; nor does it assume moral equivalence. (In the midst of our own hellish Civil War, Abraham Lincoln remained firmly against slavery, yet he still was able to speak of his Confederate adversaries as human beings and envision a union. He famously stated: “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”)   

This is the aim of a partisan perception chart: to get to know the other side better, to allow both sides to air their grievances, challenge the other side, correct inaccuracies and then move beyond their emotionally charged, opposing positions to begin to address critical underlying interests.

RUSSIA UNITED STATES

1) You are a military threat to us right on our border. 

Our country has experienced devastating invasions across our borders from Napoleon in 1812 to Hitler in 1941. The U.S. pushed NATO to our borders even though George Kennan, your own senior statesman said in 1998 that this is a “tragic mistake… No one was threatening anybody else… It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course, there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are—but this is just wrong.'' In response to your epic mistake—your U.S.-led NATO expansion—we have had to engage in a massive military build-up to counter this threat.

1) You are a military threat to our allies in Europe. 

You are building up your military on NATO’s border, threatening Eastern Europe and the Baltics. We are forced to build up NATO forces, including, in January 2017, the biggest deployment of U.S. troops and tanks in Poland since the end of the Cold War. You have placed nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian exclave within the European Union. We must defend the new NATO member states that have historically been under your domination. Your provocative, aggressive actions are revitalizing NATO. The Baltic states, Poland, Ukraine have had to massively increase their military spending to respond to your actions.

2) You are a strategic nuclear threat.

You directly threaten us with your military build-up and increasingly lethal technologies like “super-fuze” targeting, which greatly increases the kill capability of your ICBMs and SLBMs and your ability for a surprise first strike, undermining strategic stability. You are developing “Prompt Global Strike” weapons that could hit our nuclear silos. Your submarines have three times the number of warheads needed to destroy the entire fleet of Russian land-based missiles in their silos. In 2014, you began the “Third Off-Set” strategy to develop superior technologies to maintain military dominance—autonomous learning systems, human-machine collaborative decision-making, network-enabled autonomous weapons, high-speed projectiles and more. This threatens us and feeds your massive military industry. Your ABM defense on our border, the Aegis Ashore launcher, which you say is to protect Europe from nuclear Iran, can also fire Tomahawk cruise missiles and hit us in minutes.

2) You are a strategic nuclear threat.

You have pushed forth with modernizing and recapitalizing your entire arsenal of strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems, increased number and size of military exercises and made explicit nuclear threats against the U.S. and our allies. You are playing with fire in your “escalate to de-escalate” strategy thinking you can benefit from using precision low-yield nuclear strikes in a conflict with NATO. We are integrating conventional and nuclear deterrence in response. In violation of the critical INF Treaty, you have deployed two battalions of the nuclear-capable SSC-8 ground-launched cruise missiles. Like in Soviet times, your military is pushing ahead with dangerous weapons: a new heavy ICBM, a resumption of rail-mobile basing and leaked info about your “Status-6” robotic mini-submarine that could spread radioactive contamination along our entire coast. We must react to these incendiary, provocative threats.

3) You interfered in our elections. 

Your American political consultants played a decisive role in pro-U.S. Boris Yeltsin’s come-from-behind presidential election triumph in 1996, which, along with IMF support for Yeltsin, violated Russia’s sovereignty. Aggressive and outspoken U.S. officials like Hillary Clinton interfered in our internal affairs after our 2011 State Duma elections, sending a signal to activists to stage protests. In March 2012, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul decided to redirect $50 million toward “civil society assistance” to NGOs that your government approves in Russia and which often criticize our government.  Just imagine your reaction if the Russian government sent $50 million to American groups that support our values and interests.

3) You interfered in our elections.

U.S. intelligence concluded that Russia led an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, harm Clinton’s electability and undermine the U.S.-led liberal international order. You used RT as a messaging tool for the Russian government and extensively used social media and trolls to spread fake news. You criticize our support for liberal values to feed your conspiracy theories like the claim that the U.S. supports an anti-government “fifth column” in your country, which is really a way to distract your population away from your own domestic political and economic problems.

4) You interfered in the former Soviet states on our border

The U.S. government supported your nicely named “color/flower revolutions”—the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia, the 2005 Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan and the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. In December 2014, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland walked in Kiev’s Maidan Square handing out food to protesters opposing President Viktor Yanukovych who was elected by a democratic vote in 2010. Imagine if a top Russian official showed up in support of an Occupy Wall Street demonstration or at an anti-government demonstration in Puerto Rico or Mexico. We saw how you reacted—went ballistic—to our weapons near your border back in 1962, when we had an international legal right to provide Cuba with missiles requested by Castro after your Bay of Pigs invasion.

4) You interfered in the newly independent, former Soviet states.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, you took political, economic, legal and covert action to maintain hegemony over what you call your “near abroad” to “protect the rights of Russian-speakers,” maintain access to ports in the Black Sea and Baltics and maintain buffer zones from traditional rivals like Turkey and Iran in the south, China in the east and European powers in the west.

Proclaiming your grievances with the new post-Soviet international order, you have used a variety of tactics and instruments to try to restore a sphere of influence over former Soviet states, including subversion of governments by discrediting their leaders, applying economic trade and investment pressures, use of energy warfare and cyber warfare.

5) You launched military invasions of sovereign states.

Your government invaded Iraq in 2003 under a false premise about WMDs and tried to establish an American model of democracy to control politics and resources. Then, during the ephemeral Arab Spring, your government supported the invasion of Libya, then Syria, creating complete chaos and an opening for the so-called Islamic State to flourish in the Middle East and beyond. You have handled Islam like a monkey handles a grenade. You continued to run your experiments in states on our border. Your own public is tired of this American interventionism, whether led by George W. Bush’s neo-con advisors like Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle or Obama’s liberal interventionists like Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. All this helped elect outsider Donald Trump.

You have led invasions of our three historical allies in the Middle East: Iraq, Libya and Syria. What if we threatened your historical ally—the authoritarian, extremist Islamic state of Saudi Arabia? In Syria, your actions threaten one of our only two military bases outside the former Soviet Union, while you have 800 foreign military bases in 80 countries—more bases in foreign lands than any other people, nation or empire in history. Just imagine your reaction if we directly threatened any one of them.

Your government nudged your puppet, Georgia's then-President Saakashvili, to discard negotiations in favor of a military solution in his country's dispute with South Ossetia, a la the Croatian operation Storm against Serbian Kraina in 1995. A Council of the European Union report concluded that “Georgia started the unjustified war.”

5) You launched military invasions of sovereign states

In 2008, you launched a war with Georgia, recognizing pro-Russian separatist regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. After Georgia's Rose Revolution, elected President Mikheil Saakashvili stood up to Russia, seeking to restore Georgia’s legal right to full control over separatist regions.  Since the war, you have occupied Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of the cease-fire agreement. 

In 2014, you took the shocking action of using military force to annex Crimea and then began supporting pro-Russian rebels seeking to take over eastern Ukraine.

Regarding U.S. military action in the Middle East, a majority of Americans do now believe that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a mistake with grave unintended consequences, collateral damage and mass civilian deaths. But the killing of innocent civilians was not intentional.

We supported military action in Libya in order to stop Gaddafi from committing genocide against his own people in Benghazi.

You have supported the butcher Assad in Syria who has used chemical weapons against his own people.

Our actions were driven by a responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Libya and Syria from their own unelected dictator leaders.

6) You say we invaded a sovereign state with the annexation of Crimea, but this is a special case.

After the West supported toppling the democratically elected President Yanukovych, we tried to compromise, asking that Ukraine's interim government be a coalition of all political forces, that all armed revolutionary factions be disbanded and that Russian remain as one of two official state languages. But the West would not be reasonable. Crimean leaders then asked to be reunited with Russia. Crimea had been part of Russia since 1783; it was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in 1954 as an administrative act, a “gift” by Nikita Khrushchev for political reasons that were meaningless for the local population because Ukraine and Russia were both parts of the same country at the time.

Even historically pro-Western Mikhail Gorbachev supported the return of Crimea to Russia, which today is still 70% ethnic Russian. In March 2014, a majority in Crimea voted in a referendum to reunify Crimea with Russia. It is parallel to the U.S.-supported Kosovo secession from Serbia. The U.S. would do the same in a similar situation. You break international law; we can too.

Regarding the tragedy with the Malaysian Airliner, the Dutch inquiry did not claim that the civilian airliner was intentionally shot down or that the Russian military took part in firing the missile.

6) The annexation of Crimea violates all agreed international norms.

Your use of military force to annex Crimea, legally a part of Ukraine, was condemned by a UN resolution as a violation of international law.

After annexing Crimea, you have continued your assault on Ukraine. You have subsequently supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine using hybrid warfare—propaganda, cyber warfare and the infiltration of regular troops disguised as local rebels. A Dutch-led investigation concluded that the missile system that shot down a Malaysia Airliner, killing all 298 on board, was trucked in from Russia at the request of Russian-backed separatists and returned to Russia the same night.

In the Ukraine conflict, you have called for a cease-fire and a negotiated solution, while still advising and supplying pro-Russian militants who refuse to negotiate.

7) You have no real democracy.

Politics in your country is now laughable. To understand politics in your country, you have to be drunk. It is now clear to the whole world just how flawed your two-party, winner-take-all political system really is. There are other better models in Europe. Only 30% of eligible U.S. voters voted for your presidents Bush and Obama, and even fewer elected Trump—just 26%—and Hillary Clinton got millions more votes than Trump. That means three-quarters of American voters did not vote for Trump. You have no right to give lessons in democracy. You have divisive, dysfunctional, gridlock politics. How about you fix your own house before you lecture others?

Our history is different—with centuries of tsarist and Soviet centralized government—and our new democracy is fitting for our country and our traditional values at this stage. President Putin has an 80% approval rating by the Russian people—since 1999 it has never been lower than 60%—and this is not just due to state-controlled media. Putin has restored our pride. You demonize Putin for degrading Russian democracy but under your friend Yeltsin the oligarchs controlled the media and bought votes for financial gain.

Yes, we have curtailed freedoms in Russia. But even historically pro-Western Gorbachev admits that U.S. geopolitical pressure, interference in our domestic politics and sanctions have all pushed Putin to operate in a more authoritarian way.

7) You have no real democracy.  

Your government controls the press, has silenced independent media and limited public discussion and influence of opposition political parties. Government-controlled media feed constant pro-Kremlin narratives, stifling opposition. You have three “systemic opposition” parties that give the appearance of pluralism but always follow the Kremlin lead.  Serious opposition candidates are prevented from running.

President Putin and his inner circle operate with near complete authority and power, citing the external threat from the U.S. and the West to justify stifling domestic opposition, the alleged “fifth column,” and to pass the foreign agent law and close NGOs.

In the first decade of Putin’s presidency, growing wealth due to high oil prices could compensate for diminished democracy. But the standard of living has been falling in your country with 20% of the population now below the poverty level. Putin has not delivered on promises to create millions of high-end jobs, improve education and health services and steeply raise real wages. In these conditions, it is getting harder for your people to accept diminished democracy.

Not only have you suppressed democracy at home, your President Putin continues to lead a sophisticated and opportunistic campaign to sabotage liberal democracy in Europe and the United States.

8) Your economy is based on inequality.

Your “democracy” is based on systemic inequality: the richest 1% in the U.S. now own more wealth than the bottom 90%.

8) Your economy is based on inequality.

President Putin has made the state the chief arbiter in the economy, with 110 individuals controlling 35% of the wealth.

9) We are morally superior.

Russia stands strong for our traditional Christian values. We see much in the West that to the majority in our country appears morally corrupt. The vast majority of Russians are conservative and the pro-Western liberal elite that supports the American form of liberal democracy is only a small percentage of our population. You give front-page coverage to groups like Pussy Riot whose acts in a Russian church were extremely offensive to the majority of our people. Your own conservatives recognize that we defend true Christian values; as Pat Buchanan noted, President Putin has planted Russia’s flag “firmly on the side of traditional Christianity.”

Though you claim you were fighting to spread “democracy,” your ill-conceived invasions have led to immoral results—100,000 violent civilian deaths in Iraq—and your efforts to topple Gaddafi in Libya and Assad in Syria led to civil wars with over 400,000 killed in Syria alone before Russia got involved militarily to try to stabilize the situation. The refugee crisis is the worst since WWII. The result is less democracy and more violent chaos. The road to hell is paved with your good intentions to spread your democracy. During this period, Russia does not have anything near this amount of blood on its hands. Trump was right when he blurted out that the U.S. is “not so innocent.”

9) We are morally superior.

Russia has for centuries been backward and barbarous. As President Reagan put it, it has been an evil empire, whether tsarist repression or Stalinist terror, in which tens of millions died.

We have tried to help reform your country, to spread freedom in tsarist times, in Soviet times, in post-Soviet times, but it has failed. Your system has repeatedly fallen back into economic corruption and authoritarianism. Russia ranks 131st out of 176 countries in corruption while the U.S. ranks 18th.

The majority of us believe that the U.S. democratic system has been an exceptional inspiration for individual freedom and an open society in the world, a “city on a hill,” and U.S. leadership and military power have ensured a rule-based, stable world order since WWII. There are some who say this is a myth, that America does not behave better than other nations in its foreign policy, but the majority of Americans believe in unique "American exceptionalism" and that we are destined to lead the free world.

10) You violate human rights.

You began criticizing us in the 1990s for violating human rights in Chechnya, where we had Saudi-trained Wahhabist extremists trying to create an Islamic state. Then look how fast, after 9/11—led by 17 radicalized Saudi hijackers out of 19—the Bush administration passed the Patriot Act curtailing civil liberties, set up Guantanamo and CIA “black sites,” embraced torture, acted on false intelligence and manufactured public consent for the invasion of Iraq. As soon as you were threatened, once you felt what it was like to have a major attack on your homeland, as Russia has had many times, you quickly curtailed human rights; yet you have condemned us for doing the same when we tightened political and press control in the face of threats—terrorism, instability, near economic collapse before Putin became president—and U.S. agitation against our president and our system.

You may not have many political prisoners, but although the U.S. has only 4.4% of the world's population your “democracy” has 22% of the world's prisoners.

You had Clinton and Bush family dynasties controlling politics for years. Putin is in power longer, but has given us needed stability. You now have serious instability with your established politicians thrown out of power. Imagine what it is like for us having had the total collapse of our system in 1991.

10) You violate human rights

You limit political freedoms and human rights. There have been many unresolved extrajudicial killings of your journalists and opposition activists. There are cases of alleged poisoning of opposition figures and trumped up corruption charges against opposition figures. There is no moral equivalency between the unintended consequences of U.S. actions and these deliberate Russian killings.

America is not perfect, but we do not imprison or eliminate our political opposition figures, as has been happening in Russia. We have always supported the freedom and creativity of the individual as a core value, setting up checks and balances in our government to lessen the danger of tyranny and abuse of power.

We also limit the term of a president to eight years. President Putin has effectively already been the top leader for 16 years and with his likely win in the 2018 election he will be in power for over two decades.

11) You don’t understand us or our history, or how to deal with us.

John Kennedy was beloved by Russians for his 1963 speech acknowledging that “no nation in the history of battle suffered as much as the Soviet Union in WWII.” This trauma is still not forgotten in our country. President Putin’s older brother died in the Nazi siege of Leningrad. In addition, for the majority of Russians, the collapse of the Soviet Union was a devastating trauma. Our situation was worse than the U.S. Great Depression. You pushed your own American model of democracy in our country, leading to economic impoverishment, crime and political chaos. President Putin lifted Russia back up “off its knees” to restore our national dignity. You just elected a president to “make America great again.” The suffering in your coal towns does not even come close to what happened to our people.

We have a Russian proverb: “You don’t go into someone else’s monastery with your own set of rules.” You provoked us into reaction by pushing your liberal hegemony right up to our borders and your ill-conceived reform efforts inside our country.

You are still fighting the Soviet Union, not the new Russia. We need mutual respect, to stop demonization and reestablish normal human and national relations. While you wallow in your anti-Russia, anti-Trump hysteria, we can turn to the new rising global superpower—China.

11) You don’t understand us or our history, or how to deal with us.

We treasure our freedom and individual liberty. We are a country founded by immigrants who sought freedom from tyranny. For us, your legacy of Communism is repugnant. We see that authoritarianism returning. It is hard to trust you or cooperate on shared threats, whether terrorism, nuclear proliferation or third-party cyberattacks given your suppression of democracy at home and abroad, your actions in Crimea and Ukraine and your violation of the INF Treaty. 

We can try to work on relations through nongovernmental tracks, but the majority in our country think you must stop provocative actions so we can reach a consensus on Putin’s motives. A majority of the U.S. political elite believes Putin is incurably hostile and no deals are possible. Some see Putin’s behavior as reactive to U.S.-led NATO expansion and Middle East invasions yet doubt we can deal with him and must contain your country’s now very aggressive behavior.

Others in our country see Putin as a typical strongman, vengeful but not incorrigibly corrupt and we need to adopt a realist position, engage Moscow and respect your country’s interests in what has been a U.S.-dominated post-Soviet international order.

12) You don’t keep your agreements; your violations have broken trust and are provoking a dangerous, new arms race and risk of unintended nuclear war.

The breakdown in our relations all started with your expansion of NATO, a violation of the spirit of our agreement in 1989 when U.S. Secretary of State Baker initially indicated that, if President Gorbachev consented to reunify Germany, NATO would “not move one inch to the East” and Gorbachev affirmed that “any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.” But U.S. officials never put this in writing and quickly altered the terms to keep a unified Germany in NATO, pocketing your gains and taking unilateral advantage of the weakened political and economic state of the Soviet Union at the time. This has created a deep sense of betrayal and bitterness in Russia. Yeltsin accepted your terms. We will no longer accept your terms. You took advantage of us when we were open to a new collaborative relationship with the U.S. and the West. That is why President Putin has said the fall of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century.”  Not because he so loved the Soviet system. But because our interests were not respected and it could all have been different had you treated us as you would yourself had you been in our shoes.  We embraced you as a friend and ally and then you pushed your military to our border, went on a rampage of invasions and color revolutions.  You cannot be trusted.  Our annexation of Crimea is defensive, not aggressive.

Both of our countries are now facing new nightmare scenarios that could lead to devastating unintended nuclear war, including third party hacking of our nuclear command and control systems, and ever-more sophisticated weapons using quantum computing, virtual reality and other emerging technologies.

Despite this, actions by the U.S. are forcing us into a new round in the strategic nuclear arms race with the increasing risk of inadvertent nuclear war, agent provocateur nightmare scenarios, that could put an end to both America and Russia as we know them.

12) You don’t keep your agreements; your violations have broken trust and are provoking a dangerous, new arms race and risk of unintended nuclear war.

The complete break in our relations came with your shocking annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, with your violation of basic agreed international norms. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, we invited you to partner with NATO and the G-8 economic alliance. Poland, the Czech Republic and other sovereign countries wanted protection. We could not leave them out of NATO because of your “hurt feelings.” We tried partnership, but you were a poor partner with your corrupt reform process and state-supported kleptocracy.

You have repeatedly violated NATO airspace and engaged in dangerous military encounters, creating a dangerous risk of escalation.

You have deployed a new ground-launched cruise missile that violates the landmark 1987 INF Treaty. This cannot go unanswered and we must act to protect our nation and our allies.

Both of our countries are now facing new nightmare scenarios that could lead to a devastating unintended nuclear war, including third party hacking of our nuclear command and control systems, and ever-more sophisticated weapons using quantum computing, virtual reality and other emerging technologies.

Despite this, actions by Russia are forcing us into a new round in the strategic nuclear arms race with the increasing risk of inadvertent nuclear war, agent provocateur nightmare scenarios. that could put an end to both America and Russia as we know them.

 

Bruce Allyn is a senior fellow and affiliated faculty at the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, and a former director of the Harvard-Soviet Joint Study on Nuclear Crisis Prevention.

Photo credit: by ewiemann, shared via Wikimedia Commons under a CC BY 2.0 license.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.

Russia’s Pivot Away From West to China Explained by More Than Ukraine Crisis

Russia’s Pivot Away From West to China Explained by More Than Ukraine Crisis

teaser Russia's main trading partners Russia’s Pivot Away From West to China Explained by More Than Ukraine CrisisJune 22, 2017Simon SaradzhyanAs relations between the West and Russia went from bad to worse in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, one consequence has been Moscow’s decision to strengthen ties with China, while devoting less energy to attempts at cooperation with the U.S. and EU.

Relations between Russia and China have become so close that some policy influentials on both sides have begun to advocate a military-political union between their two countries. (See the summaries of two recent Russian press reports below.)

However, while the post-Cold War Sino-Russian rapprochement has definitely accelerated since the Ukraine crisis, one should bear in mind that Russia’s “pivot” from West to East is a longer-term trend in terms of bilateral trade opportunities and public opinion.

On the latter point, take a look at these polls conducted by Russia’s most prominent independent pollster, the Levada Center (see one above).

As relations between the West and Russia went from bad to worse in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, one consequence has been Moscow’s decision to strengthen ties with China, while devoting less energy to attempts at cooperation with the U.S. and EU.

Relations between Russia and China have become so close that some policy influentials on both sides have begun to advocate a military-political union between their two countries. (See the summaries of two recent Russian press reports below.)

However, while the post-Cold War Sino-Russian rapprochement has definitely accelerated since the Ukraine crisis, one should bear in mind that Russia’s “pivot” from West to East is a longer-term trend in terms of bilateral trade opportunities and public opinion.

On the latter point, take a look at these polls conducted by Russia’s most prominent independent pollster, the Levada Center:

Russians' attitude toward EU

 

Russians' attitude toward U.S.Russians' attitude toward China

 

There’s a good chance these longer-term trends in Russians’ attitudes toward the West and East (and some of the policies that accompany them) are driven not only by the animosities between Moscow and Washington/Brussels—now over Ukraine, earlier over Yugoslavia and other crises—but also by the fact that China has been expanding economically at rates that the leading Western powers can’t keep up with. Look at this table:

Countries' share in world's GDP

 

Simply put, Chinese growth has generated more trade opportunities for the Russian economy. China’s share in Russia’s trade has expanded, while EU and U.S. shares have shrunk. Given these economic trends, even if the U.S. and EU were to mend relations with Russia tomorrow, Russia’s pivot to China will continue as long as the latter keeps rising.

Countries' share in Russia's overall volume of tradeGroups of countries' share in Russia's foreign trade

 

 

And here are those summaries of recent Russian media publications on the prospects of a Russian-Chinese alliance:

“Russia and China Have Been Offered Hands, Backs and Sides,” Kommersant, 04.04.17

Russian and Chinese experts met in Moscow on April 4 for two days of discussions under the aegis of the Valdai Club.

Russian participants actively lobbied the idea of uniting Russia and China against the unipolar order. Sergei Karaganov suggested that the fight against Western influence should be initiated by the event’s participants.

Karaganov’s proposal won support of the chief researcher of the Xinhua Center for World Affairs Studies, Sheng Shiliang. The Chinese researcher cited Mao’s observation that “the essence of American imperialism cannot change” and proposed a three-pronged strategy for development of Chinese-Russian relations: back to back against external challenges, side by side against Trumpism and hand in hand for economic cooperation.

Most Chinese guests, however, opposed confrontation with Washington. Fudan University professor Fan Yuitsyun said such a confrontation was not in the interests of the U.S. or Russia or China. "This is obsolete geopolitics; the world is now busy solving other problems: how to preserve globalization, what to do with climate change. In 2017, even economic cooperation can be neither bilateral nor directed against a third party. The key thing is building chains of added value in the world.” The professor said China, the U.S. and Russia should explore which problems these three countries can work on together. Among these he named North Korea’s nuclear program, counter-terrorism and arms reduction. Discussion of the possibility of a Russian-Chinese military alliance generated differences. Many Russian participants came out in support of this idea, but Sheng Shiliang decisively rejected it: “There were already three unions between us. We were married three times and we divorced three times. Where is your conscience?” However, the director of the Center for Russian Studies at the East China Normal University, Feng Shaolai, countered that "after 60 years chemical processes begin in the human body that allow us to experience love again.”

 

“Famous Chinese political scientist Yan Xuetong on the prospects for bilateral relations: ‘I do not understand why Russia does not insist on forming an alliance with China,’” Kommersant, 03.17.17

Q: What role does Russia play in China's foreign policy?

A: Russia and China are not formal allies, but in recent years much has been done to improve relations between them.

Q: You are one of the few in China who openly advocate the formation of a full-fledged Russian-Chinese alliance. Why do you think that it is important?

A: From my point of view, both Russia and China are under pressure from the United States. Unfortunately, there is no alliance between us. As I understand, neither side is ready for this. And that's why we can neither give each other adequate support nor improve our relations further. Our cooperation has boundaries.

Q: Why, in your opinion, does China remain committed to the policy of non-entry into alliances?

A: This principle was adopted only in 2008 in order to maintain an equal distance from the two superpowers, Russia and the U.S., without offending either of them. At that moment, it met our interests, but times have changed, and now China has half approached the status of a superpower. Therefore, this principle no longer meets our interests. I do not understand why Russia does not insist on forming an alliance with China.

Q:  China quite clearly stated that it is not in its interests to pursue such an alliance, and in this situation would Russia not look stupid if it insisted?

A: But if Russia insisted, then it would be a problem for China rather than a problem for the two sides as it is now. Last year, during the visit of Vladimir Putin to China in September, Russia and China for some reason signed a statement saying there was no union between them. This step remains unclear to me.

Q: Usually it is said that Russia and China have their own unique set of problems and it is not in the interests of Russia, for example, to protect China on the issue of the South China Sea. Similarly, it is not in China's interests to defend Russia's actions in Crimea and Ukraine.

A: Yes, we do not support each other openly on these issues, and this establishes an artificial ceiling for our relations: They have nowhere to develop.

Q: When I discuss this issue with Chinese scholars, they usually say that we already had an alliance in the 1950s and it ended badly because in an alliance one side always dominates, and the other side obeys.

A: I know this argument. If we look at history, no alliance lasts forever. Any union ends. I do not think that this is a good argument. It's like saying to a divorced person: Do not marry again because nothing good came of your first marriage.

Q: You said that any union has a purpose. Back then we stood together against the world of capitalism. What would be the goal of the Russian-Chinese union now?

A: The goal is to increase the political power of our states, to protect our territory and to reduce the military threat from the United States. China has a territorial dispute with Japan, which has U.S. support. Russia has a territorial dispute with Ukraine, which has U.S. support. We have a similar source of threat.

Q: Many Russian researchers note that the joint initiatives of Russia and China, such as the SCO and BRICS, have not produced the result that the parties expected. China has created a new four-way mechanism instead of the SCO in Central Asia, and the BRICS summits leave an impression that all five countries talk about their own problems and do not hear each other. Why do you think that is?

A: As for the SCO, its status was undermined by Russia. It began as the "Shanghai Five," which dealt with preventive security issues, preventing conflicts between members. Fortunately, it became possible to transform it, move it toward active security and cooperation, when the members jointly fought against the threats of separatism, terrorism and extremism along the perimeter of the borders and within the organization. Unfortunately, at some point, your government began actively pushing for India and Pakistan to joint. These are strategic rivals! So the SCO lost its depth, moved one level down: from active security to preventive security—now it again has to focus on preventing conflict between members.

Q: Why did China agree to this? The SCO has a consensus principle—Beijing could block the expansion, no?
A: China has resisted this for many years, but at some point this resistance in itself began to negatively impact China’s relations with Russia and India. And China decided to give in in order not to provoke conflict. But the entry of India and Pakistan seriously undermined the potential of this organization. It was effectively killed, even though it was a very promising organization! A lot of my American students wrote doctoral dissertations on the SCO 10 years ago; it looked like a new format. It could have become a real alliance! Now no one writes anything about it.

Q: And what about BRICS?

A: BRICS is a different case: It was a wrong idea from the very beginning. The member countries had no connection with each other than that Goldman Sachs analyst Jim O'Neill bundled them together and the political leadership of these countries decided to build a political association on this basis. It was doomed from the very beginning and that was evident during the summits: The countries did not have a common strategic goal, except for increasing their representation in international financial institutions. I predicted back in 2013 that BRICS was doomed to fail, and Jim O'Neill then wrote me angry letters in response. And what happened? The organization is in a coma, and Goldman Sachs’s BRICS fund was shut down in 2016. So who was right?

Q: In your opinion, did Russia's actions in the Crimea in 2014 affect the behavior of China in the South China Sea?

A: Yes, but conceptually rather than directly. That was a good example of how a country should protect its fundamental interests, but it is not entirely reasonable to compare these two situations: China did not take any islands in the South China Sea that had previously been taken by another country. Everything has long been divided between the four countries there, and no one has the opportunity to change that position without a war.

Q: But isn’t China trying to put all this sea area under its control?

A: Of course not! It's impossible. I repeat, all the islands have long been taken by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and China. China’s share of the islands is not the largest and it has begun to strengthen them later than everyone else. And China never tried to forcefully seize the islands taken by other countries because that would require a ground war Beijing will not wage.

Q: In recent years there has been a rapprochement between Russia and Japan. Cooperation is not as wide-ranging as it is with China, but steps are being taken towards its development. Isn’t China jealous?

A: No. The foreign policy pursued by Shinzo Abe consists of two parts: to increase the level of confrontation with China and to improve relations with all the rest. Now he is trying to buy you to reduce Russian support for the Chinese policy in the East China Sea and to ensure that Russia does not agree to hold joint maneuvers with China there. And for that they are ready to pay you money.

Q: And what is so bad about the joint exercises in the region for Japan?

A: He [Abe] needs to have China look isolated on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands [Senkaku]. And he sells this proposition to his people: Look, thanks to my wise policy, no one supports China in this dispute.

Q: The victory of Donald Trump in the United States, the victory of the Brexit supporters in Britain, the growth of populism and nationalism around the world—do you see here a chain of coincidences or a pattern?

A: For the time being, we can state that the forces of economic protectionism are winning. The U.S. has led this movement, and other countries will have to follow. As for nationalism, I would not be so sure. It seems to me that the movements against the elites are winning.

Q: Is there such a movement in China?

A: Yes, although in a different form. In our case, it is an ultra-left movement. It is much stronger than it was even two years ago.

Q: Why did this wave rise right now?

A: I think that the errors of globalization and liberalism have accumulated. Globalization has two sides. The good side is the free movement of goods, services and people. The bad side is terrorism, inequality, human smuggling, pollution, diseases, etc. At some point, the shortcomings of globalization have become more visible than its virtues. As for liberalism, the U.S. has been lecturing everyone that this regime is ideal. But in its extreme form, it further strengthens the problems of globalization! And that has become obvious to people.

Q: Xi Jinping made a speech at Davos that aroused great excitement. In that speech he urged not to stop globalization. After that, many began to talk about China readiness to become a new defender of global values ​​instead of the United States. Do you agree with this?

A: First, not everyone understood what Xi Jinping really meant. He advocated economic globalization only. China has never supported political globalization or ideological globalization or global arms control. Second, even within the framework of economic globalization, he supported only the free movement of goods and services. He did not support, for example, globalization of capital. China strictly controls the movement of capital. We learned this during the financial crises of 1997 and 2008. We controlled capital and survived. So the idea that China is ready to replace the U.S. as the flagship of globalization as a whole is a fiction of the media. …

Q: And what about Central Asia, where countries are seriously hoping for China to come in and develop infrastructure?

A: My personal opinion is that even in the South China Sea there is a greater chance to do something more together than in Central Asia. There are very few people in Central Asia, so it is not profitable to build there at all. Without a certain population density, all this is meaningless. …

Q:  Donald Trump came to power promising to confront China along economic and political lines. Do you think he will do it?

A: Trump said he would improve relations with Putin, but he did nothing like that, and he even demanded that Russia withdraw from Crimea. At the same time, he promised to confront China, but has not done that yet. Many of us are happy about this, but I try to cool them: For him this is not a conscious choice; tomorrow his position can change. He is unreliable.

Q: Do you think this situation is beneficial for China?

A: I believe that in general, his policy will be confrontational. His advisers are very aggressive. … We do not know at all why he makes decisions, perhaps on the basis of his own views, or the views of his advisors, or the views of his daughter. It is impossible to work with that, and it is useless to try analyzing this. …

 Q:  In your works, you assert that the state has four characteristics that form its cumulative national power. Of these the most important are political power, economic power, cultural power and military power. While the last three components are clear, I wonder how to assess the political power of the state? Can it be quantified?

A: Of course. Three factors. The first factor is the will to reform. Second, the opportunity to implement reforms. Third, the direction of reforms. Will, opportunity and direction. The presence of will can be assessed by analyzing government policy and reading documents. Then we can look at what part of what has been planned is implemented, and understand the capabilities of the government. Finally, third, we look at the direction of reforms. Do they lead to the opening of the country to the world or to its closure? It is easy to calculate.

The opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the author.

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