Saturday, June 30, 2018

Putin and Trump Will Find It Hard to Agree Because of Objective Circumstances and Because They are So Much Alike, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            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 (

                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.

Trump’s Summit with Putin Constitutes an ‘Unprecedented Act of Betrayal,’ Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 30 – Even before it takes place and US President Donald Trump makes concessions to Vladimir Putin in exchange for empty promises by the dictator, concessions that may include acceptance of Russian positions on Crimea and Syria, the Helsinki summit itself constitutes “an unprecedented betrayal” of the interests of the West, Igor Eidman says.

            Supporters of the US president argue that what Trump is doing is no more than what his predecessors have done: “American presidents didn’t avoid meeting with Soviet dictators so why shouldn’t Trump meet with Putin,”  but that isn’t true, the Russian commentator for Deutsche Welle says (

                This “situation is unprecedented,” Eidman argues. Yes, American leaders met with Soviet bosses “but in absolutely different circumstances” and for absolutely different reasons. Some were compelled to by the needs of a military alliance during World War II while others sought to promote de-Stalinization, the Helsinki Process and Perestroika.

            “Thus, after World War II, American leaders met with Soviet general secretaries only when the latter moved from a harsh Stalinist course and oriented themselves toward peaceful coexistence. One can’t imagine that Reagan would have met with Brezhnev after the [Soviet] invasion of Afghanistan.”

                “Now, everything is just the reverse,” Eidman argues. Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea and his drowning of the Donbass in blood “doesn’t bother Trump.

            Putin is currently conducting “several aggressive wars at once – in Ukraine, Syria and a hybrid one against the West. He has practically been declared an international terrorist (after the verdict in the Litvinenko case, the shooting down of the Boeing, the poisoning of Skripal and so on),” the Deutsche welle commentator says.

            During his time in office, Eidman continues, the Kremlin ruler has shown that he does not observe any agreements and lies as easily as he breathes.  In this situation, to have a completely friendly meeting with Putin (and it will be that way judging by the statements of the representatives of the White House) is to reward his continuing aggression and other crimes.”

            “This is a direct blow to security everywhere,” the commentator says. And it is thus “a betrayal not just of Ukraine but also of the interests of the United States itself.”

‘Who is Guilty: Putin or Russia?’ Travin Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – As soon as the Putin regime ceases to “offer destructive incentives,”
Dmitry Travin says, “even the most conformist Russians will find it easy to transform themselves into citizens of the civilized world,” his answer to the increasingly frequent queries as to “who is guilty: Putin or Russia?”

             In a Rosbalt commentary that the professor at St. Petersburg’s European University says that he is not speaking to those who want to cast blame but rather to those who want to understand what is going on in Russia today and what the country’s prospects are for the future (

                Since antiquity, he points out, people have argued whether a people always gets the government it deserves or whether the government is so powerful that it can bend the population to its will and thus bears total responsibility for what happens with the people reduced to an irrelevancy.

            It matters profoundly which view people and governments have, Travin says.  If the people are totally responsible for what is happening in the country now, he continues, then “it turns out that Russia is hopeless. We will have an eternal stagnation in the economy with only those close to the Kremlin getting rich.”

            And that means, he continues, that “each who does not want to live under those conditions must flee abroad.  But if the government is to blame, then there is hope because the people can support a very different kind of regime and system in the future – if they work for it, Travin argues.

            A first glance suggests that the Russian people have “precisely what they deserve. We go to the polls, we vote, we support one and the same kind of rulers again and again although our lives don’t become better.” The people don’t work better because they have few incentives, this view holds, and they have no interest in simply enriching those in power.

                What Russians must remember, however, is that they aren’t building communism anymore. They are developing a market economy. And “in a market economy, be it ours or that of the Finns or the Americans, people seek to conduct themselves rationally, that is, they work exactly where it is profitable to do so.”

                It is another question entirely, Travin continues, that “in some countries it is profitable to create a business, to increase one’s qualifications, and to invest money in long-term projects, while in others, the reverse is true.” In the latter, it is more profitable to seek part of the rents that the regime collects. Unfortunately, Russia’s “case is the second one.”

            What that means is this: “our people conduct themselves approximately as do people in other market economies: they go where things are better and where they are led to do so by the stimuli available.” Unfortunately, the government “having established a system of anti-stimuli is forcing society not to work but to seek to seize.” 

            Finns and Americans “put in analogous situations,” would do the same” because “a market economy with good institutions, that is, rules of the game, is a means to become richer” but “a market economy under conditions of bad institutions is a path to degradation,” the path Russia is now on.

            And he adds that a similar calculus holds in politics. Russians vote for Putin because it is more rational to do so than to vote for those the Kremlin has ensured have no chance of gaining office and who in all too many cases are “clowns” who would perform perhaps even worse than the incumbent, Travin continues.

            “Our voter fears chaos in just the same way the successful citizen of any Western country does,” he says. The difference is this: Putin has managed to convince people that they would suffer far more without his patronage than is in fact the case. As a result, they sit still for what they shouldn’t.

            “Both Germans and other peoples have at various times completely deserved the cannibalistic governments they created. And they conducted themselves with regard to these governments in a completely rational manner … For example, they killed Jews because such cruelty was then rewarded.”

            “But when the powers changed, the Germans in an instance began to build a civilized society with democracy and tolerance” because in that society, these things were rewarded. Such a rapid shift, of course, is morally troubling; but it is an indication of what is possible when the rules of the game imposed from above change radically.

            Not every people is capable of building democracy at every point, Travin acknowledges. “Normal development is usually impossible when irrational behavior openly dominates over the rational in society.”

                A century ago, he writes, “the passions, motives and fantastic dreams of the broad masses clearly dominated over the efforts of a small part of society to build a market economy and democracy” in Russia and the result was the Soviet system.

            “But today everything is reversed,” Travin says. “The masses have become extremely rational, indeed at seems, they seem excessively so. Rationalism leads to conformism and submission.”  Irrationalism is in power. But “just like other peoples in the past, pragmatic, rational and conformist Russians can easily transform themselves into normal citizens of the civilized world.”

            The only requirement is that the powers that be must stop imposing “destructive incentives.” Then, “normal elections will allow for people to think about which candidates are better” and “a normal economy will lead to the production of goods the population needs” rather than those that only benefit a thieving state.