Staunton, June 30 – Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will find it hard to reach any hard and fast agreements at their upcoming summit in Helsinki not only because of objective circumstances which will make many such agreements impossible but also because the two men are so much alike, Vladimir Pastukhov says.
In an interview on the “Personally Yours” program of Ekho Moskvy, the Russian historian who now works at the University College of London draws that conclusion as well as offering penetrating comments on the current international system and some dangerous developments in Russia itself (echo.msk.ru/programs/personalnovash/2231020-echo/).
He says that in contrast to the recent past, he observes in the world “manifestations of Russophobia practically every day but those of Putinophilia practically every hour,” a pattern that the World Cup competition has encouraged but that may very well end soon, along with “the mini-football thaw” that the Kremlin has been showing to visitors in recent weeks.
Putin may try to keep this mini-thaw going “for some time,” Pastukhov says; but it will depend in large measure on the outcome of his upcoming meeting with Trump in Helsinki, a site he says was selected to echo the Helsinki Accords which Moscow viewed as a recognition of the post-1945 status quo in Europe.
But the chief reason for the meeting now, the historian says, is that each leader has “an enormous desire to reach an agreement with the other.” Despite that, they are going to find that difficult in the first instance because “these two personalities are unbelievably similar to one another.”
Putin wants to “achieve a big deal in the framework of which it will be possible to guarantee the non-interference in the Wet in the domestic affairs of Russia and htus practically legalize the understandings” by which the Kremlin leader now runs his country, Pastukhov continues.
“In exchange,” he suggests, “Russia will promise to stop acting like a partisan fighter in the international arena and to engage instead in profitable trade” just as Soviet leaders hoped they would have the chance to do after the 1974 accords signed in the same city.
As for Trump, the historian argues, “he dreams of gaining the opportunity to rule just as things are ruled in Moscow!” He doesn’t have those chances now but he continues to seek them. At one level, they will not have any problem in finding “a common language” but at another, they won’t be able to reach agreements that go beyond declarations.
Many are now talking about a deal in Syria, Pastukhov says; but they forget that “Russia went into Syria with one single goal” – to force the United States to reach an agreement with it about Ukraine. For Putin, Syria and Ukraine are “a package deal.” And “Syria is simply an instrument” in that process.
Will Trump recognize Crimea as legitimately part of Russia as he has said he might? According to Pastukhov, that is unlikely because the US president is “not free to do so yet.” He isn’t, as much as he would like to be “’an American Putin,’” and if he were to make that concession, charges that he is “a Russian agent” would surface with new force.
Putin understands that full well, and his understanding will also play a role in preventing the breakthrough that he would otherwise pursue without stopping, the historian continues.
The summit nonetheless will have consequences, although perhaps not immediately. It will give rise to new hopes that agreements can come and even create “the illusion of serious movement forward.” But that is likely to backfire when it becomes obvious that this is not the case because “objective circumstances are against them.”
And then when disappointment sets it, that will lead to a snapback further than where things are today. “Understand that from love to hatred and back is a single step” and that this principle is reflected in “Russian-American relations today,” Pastukhov suggests.
Some have suggested that Trump and Putin will make some kind of alliance against Europe, he says. But he adds that “Trump in general is indifferent to the fate of the EU,” as long as it doesn’t cause any problems for him and the United States. But that attitude also has consequences for NATO and for the world.
Turning to the situation within Russia, Pastukhov says that “unfortunately, Putin isn’t running the country.” Rather, he trying to cope with “conflict situations that are constantly arising.” According to the historian, the Kremlin leader “isn’t running even the repressive process because repression has quietly and in an unnoticed way grown into terror.”
The situation is deteriorating rapidly, and if Khodorkovsky were in prison now, he wouldn’t be let out in large measure because the “illusions” that Putin and others had that the West would make concessions have ben dispelled. That is why Sentsov is being treated so differently.
But there is something else at work that is even more disturbing: the decisions about repression are no longer being made at the center. The renewed attacks on Dmitriyev in Karelia are the actions of local people who would not reverse what they are doing even if they were asked to do so by Moscow. They have too many equities in pursuing a conviction.