Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Putin’s Real Advantage over Trump: The Shift from Politics of Values to Politics of Deals

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 17 – In assessing Vladimir Putin’s influence over Donald Trump, many focus on reports about kompromat sexual or financial or Moscow’s role in last year’s US elections.  But a Moscow newspaper today points to what may be an even greater source of this sway: the shift in bilateral relations from a politics of values to a politics of making deals.

            When values informed the relationship between Moscow and Washington, each side had reasons both to reach agreements and also to walk away from any that didn’t meet those values; but now, first in Russia and now in the US, there are two leaders who approach talks looking for deals in the first instance rather than the promotion of anything but naked interest.

            And in this brave new world, the one who wants or needs an agreement more – and in this case, it is almost certainly the incoming president given his commitment to be seen making deals – is at a disadvantage relative to the one, Vladimir Putin, who also wants deals but who knows that his opposite number wants them more desperately and quickly than he.

            That conclusion is suggested by an editorial in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta” entitled “The Politics of Deals in Place of the Politics of Values” in which the paper seeks to explain why Russia is so hopeful that it will get more of what it wants when Trump takes office (ng.ru/editorial/2017-01-17/2_6904_red.html).

                The Russian powers that be, the editors say, “continue to put their hopes in Donald Trump;” and the incoming president has encouraged them to think so with his talk of doing deals with Moscow. “In Russia,” they argue, “this is viewed as a sign that sanctions may be softened or partially eliminated.”

            “’A deal’ is of course a word from the language of business,” and it is one that Trump has made the centerpiece of his worldview from the titles of his books to the way he has talked about doing deals with Russia in his recent interviews in The Times and Bild. And he has surrounded himself with a cabinet full of businessmen as well.

            Of course, this is not the first time that a Western leader has been a businessman or surrounded himself with those like himself; nor is it the first time that Moscow has placed its hopes in such people. After the West imposed sanctions, the Russian leadership hoped that European business interests would limit or even bring them to a rapid end.

            “The Russian leadership and the media which support it,” the paper’s editors say, “consider that the habits both of thought and behavior of businessmen are useful for a politician [because] they make him more moderate, stable and oriented toward mutual profit” whereas others may pursue more ideologically driven agendas.

            “It is noteworthy,” they continue, that in domestic Russian politics, businessmen have a different image.” There, successful entrepreneurs and “even more billionaires” are viewed suspiciously for the kind of actions they have engaged in to gain and keep their wealth and are compelled to expiate their “guilt” by building sports facilities and the like.

            Someone with Trump’s “background,” the editors say, would be “condemned to defeat in Russian politics” because he is very rich, his advisors would remind everyone of the oligarchs, and perhaps especially because Trump’s immediate domestic goal is to dismantle the universal health care system Barack Obama fought for.

            “In Russia, such moves would be interpreted in only one way, as an anti-people policy,” the paper says.

            “The ruling elite in Russia carries out primarily a lef policy with a significant admixture of populism, directed at groups of the population which are dependent on the state. Whatever the relations of the Kremlin and Obama were, the left initiatives of the American Democrats at an ideological and values level were able to elicit in Russia understanding if not support.”

            Russia’s powers that be, however, never viewed things that way. They “talk a lot about values (above all national ones) but in reality [their] policies are not directed at their realization.” Instead, their “leftism is a tactic for preserving their own position” and they are unprepared to see any commonality with the values of an Obama or a Holland.

            In foreign policy, “the only criterion” the rulers of Russia apply to foreign leaders is their desire to “make deals” with Russia and their willingness to work with a country that is now seeking to set on its own the rules of its own behavior, “Nezavisimaya gazeta” says.

            That makes Trump attractive in Moscow at least for now because “he does not put forward in foreign affairs any values at all,” beyond a desire to “do deals” with all and sundry.  Everything else the incoming president has said is dismissed in the Russian capital as mere electioneering of little interest to Kremlin rulers.

            “This doesn’t mean,” the paper concludes, “that the businessman Trump doesn’t have any values. Of course, he does; but for the powers that be of the Russian Federation, these seem values for internal consumption” rather than ones that will guide his relations with Moscow.

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