Friday, December 30, 2016

No Matter How Much Trump May Want to, He Can’t ‘Give’ Ukraine to Putin, Piontkovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 30 – “However much he may desire it, no [US president including Donald] Trump can give [Russia] Ukraine” because Vladimir Putin by his actions has alienated all Ukrainians and failed to provide a single compelling reason why they or anyone else should want to live under Kremlin rule, according to Andrey Piontkovsky.

            In a commentary today, the Russian commentator suggests that many in Moscow think that the coming of Trump to office will represent a complete change in the situation, thus ignoring both the limits of any one leader to achieve that and the limits Russia has imposed on itself by its failures and its aggression (

            Piontkovsky argues that Russians have suffered from this “pleasant delusion” since Trump won office on November 8 and that some of them have behaved the way Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels did when he learned on April 13, 1945 that Franklin Roosevelt had died.  “The whole course of the war is changing,” he told Hitler in the bunker.

            Russian officials have some reason for maintaining their view of Trump, the commentator says. After all, Trump has been unceasing in his enthusiasm for Putin and for establishing close ties with the Kremlin in order to fight terrorism.  “We need the Russians,” the incoming president has repeatedly said.

            This is “sweet music … not only for the power holders in the Kremlin but for the entire Russian political class, from ‘Yabloko’-types like Arbatov and Lunkin to open neo-Nazis like Dugin and Prokhanov,” Piontkovsky says.  They all believe a new Yalta is ahead, one in which Trump will recognize “at a minimum” the former Soviet space as Russia’s sphere of influence.

            But they should all stop this silly dreaming because “nothing of the sort is going to happen.” The reason lies not with Trump but with Russia and Russians, he argues.

            “All American presidents over the last quarter of a century – Clinton and Bush and Obama – begin with efforts to reach agreement with [Moscow] becaue this realaly would correspond to the interests of both the US and Russia. But all of them were seriously disappointed” because of the position Moscow has adopted.

            Moscow has again and again “demanded the impossible.” It has demanded more than that Americans should love Russia; it has demanded that the Americans ensure that all of Russia’s neighbors will love it to.  And when the US can’t deliver on that, as it certainly can’t, Moscow gets angry and blames the US for the outcome.

            The reason Moscow has failed to win friends lies not with Washington but with Russia itself. No one on the post-Soviet space needs Moscow; indeed, no one “in any other region of the world” does either.  Russia has been and remains an aggressor and a supporter of vicious dictators like Syria’s Asad.

            “Putin’s Russia cannot be attractive for anyone, not for the millions of Ukrainians and Georgians who have chosen a European vector of development and not even for the Central Asian dictators who do not need a master in the Kremlin,” he writes. Russia has lost Ukraine “forever,” regardless of who is president of the US.

            Trump doesn’t have the power to “give Moscow the love of Ukrainians.” No one does. And when he seeks to make Putin an ally against the Islamic state, he is going to discover that the Kremlin leader is anything but a useful one given Putin’s games with the Iranians and with radicals in the Middle East.

            The incoming president will certainly be told about all that by US intelligence agencies, and it is thus likely, being a tough-minded businessman who wants to make a deal, that he will have “serious doubts about the usefulness of such an ally in the struggle against ‘the Islamic State.”

            Trump may then try to make a deal with Putin as an ally to help contain the rise of China. In this, he would have the save ally Richard Nixon did more than 40 years ago, except that then Henry Kissinger wanted a US rapprochement with China in order to contain the Soviet Union, Piontkovsky continues.

            Because of Russia’s own problems, that is unlikely to lead to a grand bargain of the kind so many are talking about. Instead, what is likely to happen after an initial burst of activity is what has happened before: disappointment on both sides and anger among the leaders of each against those of the other.

            And there is an additional reason for doubting that Trump will deliver something without getting something back: the attitudes of the US Congress. These people aren’t “’the lame ducks’” and “political corpses” that the Russian foreign ministry is complaining about.  They are people who are going to be around and that Trump will have to take into consideration.

            The American legislators will insist that the US get something if it gives up something and thus they will reinforce Trump’s own inclination to make demands for a real exchange. If Russia can’t offer anything of value – and it seems unlikely that it can – then there won’t be a new Yalta or anything like it, regardless of what Moscow and its allies abroad think.


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