Staunton, February 16 –Andrey Piontkovsky is undoubtedly correct that “’a big deal’” between Moscow and Washington has become “impossible” given the fallout from the Flynn scandal because “any step by Trump in this direction would mean for him political death” (nv.ua/opinion/piontkovskiy/novaja-realnost-kremlja-647586.html).
But while the Russian commentator doesn’t say so in his latest article, the apparent collapse of Putin’s calculations that the new US Administration he so openly has backed would deliver just such a deal may in fact make the Kremlin leader more dangerous in the short term for at least two reasons.
On the one hand, as long as Putin felt he had something to lose in Washington by being more aggressive in Ukraine or elsewhere, he has operated in a more restrained fashion than may be the case now. If he senses that he has nothing to lose, the Kremlin leader may go for broke and launch an even larger invasion of Ukraine or make moves elsewhere.
And on the other, precisely because the Flynn scandal and its growth has so disordered the Trump White House, Putin may conclude that now is the time to strike given that he may assume that he can act with impunity given that even if Trump isn’t going to deliver a grand bargain, the US president won’t choose to respond to a Russian move with anything but rhetoric.
Putin may be wrong in that calculation, but if he is thinking in those terms – and Putin is very much more of a tactician than a strategist and so likely it – he may act on them. And that could pose a more serious threat to Russia’s neighbors and even to international peace and security in Europe.
As someone who very much feared the kind of “grand bargain” Putin and some supposed “realists” in the US want because it would betray not only America’s friends around the world but also American principles, the author of these lines will be very pleased if no such deal is ever possible as long as an aggressive dictator remains in power in Moscow.
But precisely because of those feeling and not despite them, I am convinced that the world and the US foreign policy establishment in the first instance needs to recognize that the end of Putin’s latest fantasy almost certainly will make him more dangerous rather than less and that the West should be thinking and acting now to counter him.