Staunton, January 30 – Valery Solovey, one of the best connected and most thoughtful of Moscow’s foreign policy commentators, says that the telephone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin was the “first step toward ‘a big deal’” between the two not only over bilateral ties but also over a re-division of the world that will leave many countries at Russia’s mercy.
The MGIMO professor outlines what he sees as the seven most important aspects of such a deal in a Facebook post that subsequently has been picked up by other outlets (facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1842744842662560&id=100007811864378&pnref=story, echo.msk.ru/blog/vsolovej/1918678-echo/ and hvylya.net/news/exclusive/ssha-blizki-k-zaklyucheniyu-s-rf-bolshoy-sdelki-kasayushheysya-ukrainyi-solovey.html).
Solovey’s seven points of a possible “deal” between Putin and Trump are:
1. “Moscow considers that a personal meeting of Putin and Trump will be marked by mutual understanding and can lay the groundwork for a strategic deal.”
2. “In the new American administration there are influential people who think that agreement with Russia corresponds to the national interests of the US. Expert workups of these agreements have already begun.”
3. “For the US, the main themes of the deal are the destruction of ISIS and restraining Iran and China. For Russia, they are the de facto recognition of a new geopolitical status quo, a recognition of the post-Soviet space (except for the Baltics) as a zone of Russian influence, a normalization of relations with NATO, and a decisive easing of sanctions.”
4. “A mass joint operation of the US and Russia against ISIS (the theater of military operations in addition to Syria would include two or three additional countries) would prove capable of removing the objections of the Congress against a deal with Russia.”
5. “Regarding the policy of post-sanctions Iran, Moscow now has poorly concealed objections so that a firm base for a future agreement exists.”
6. “For Russia, it is critically important to avoid complications with china, therefore the potential model of agreement with the US regarding China may be formed not on a military-political but on a geo-economic basis involving massive economic cooperation in Siberia and the Far East, with the involvement of South Korea and Japan.”
7. “Regarding Ukraine, the position is the following: to give guarantees that the Russians will not seize Ukraine, and in the future to allow the two neighboring sides to agree among themselves. The US has other priorities.”
It is important to remember that Solovey’s conclusions, however accurate they may be as a statement about where Putin and Trump are now, may not be what any final “deal” will look like: There are simply too many players in both Russia and the US to be certain of that. But they do point to two disturbing possibilities in the former Soviet space.
On the one hand, if Solovey is right, Trump is prepared to leave the 11 former Soviet republics to face Russian power on their own, something that will represent a betrayal of what has been American policy since 1991. Moscow apparently is prepared to recognize that the Baltic countries are out of its zone, but any Putin promise to not try to take Ukraine is worthless.
And on the other, in the MGIMO analyst’s view, Trump and Putin are prepared to launch a major military campaign against ISIS not because it would really defeat Islamist radicalism – the experience of Syria shows how unlikely that is -- than because it could serve as a means for Trump to marginalize critics in the Congress of his all-too-obvious tilt toward Russia.
Given the gratitude that Trump would likely have for such additional Russian assistance in US domestic politics, it would be most unlikely that the US president would do anything to block Putin’s authoritarianism and imperial pretensions in Eurasia, guaranteeing not only more violence there but destroying what is left of US credibility more generally.
And tragically, if Solovey is right, Trump apparently is only concerned about containing Islamic radicalism and China and is prepared to yield to Russia on everything else. Thus his constant promise to “make America great again” will in the first instance contribute to making Russia great again even as it diminishes America’s influence and standing in the world.