Monday, June 18, 2018

Putin Likely to Win Tactically but Fail Strategically at Summit with Trump, Golts Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 -- The pro-Kremlin media is already predicting Vladimir Putin will triumph at a summit with Donald Trump later this summer, and they are certainly correct that he will gain some tactical victory, Aleksandr Golts says, because the US leader to get a win with his domestic base will give up something real for an unenforceable verbal concession by Putin.

            That is what happened in the case of Trump’s meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the Moscow commentator says, when Trump called off real military maneuvers in the south in exchange for a promise by Kim for de-nuclearization at some unspecified point in the future (

            Kim got a tactical victory by making promises; and Trump got what he wanted: an apparent but far from certain triumph that he has used to mobilize his domestic base. That is what a Putin-Trump summit will look like as well. And as a result, many in Moscow are pleased and many elsewhere frightened by this prospect.

            But Golts points out that neither the Trump-Kim summit nor the prospects for a Putin-Trump one will do anything to alter fundamentally the strategic balance in the world; and that balance, he argues, will remain firmly on the side of the United States regardless of what transpires at a meeting of Russian and American leaders.

            A major reason why Moscow commentators are celebrating the prospect of a summit is that “at first glance, it is an obvious indication that the Western policy of isolating Moscow has not produced results.”  And that in turn means, they write, that such a summit is “doomed to become a triumph for the Kremlin which has stoically withstood the pressure of ‘hostile forces.’”

            It is certainly the case, Golts says, that “the presence of Trump in the White House has essentially eased Russia’s international position. Until recently, Putin, with his view of world politics as an unending zero-sum game, seemed to many hopelessly out of date, stuck in the 19th century.”

            But to Putin’s good fortune, “a man who shares similar views became president of the most influential country of the world,” someone with little patience for or even interest in the kind of alliance building and diplomatic negotiations that his predecessors were committed to. That Trump has little interest in the common values of the West was shown at the G7 summit.

            As a result, many are rushing to declare “a victory for Putin’s strategy,” one that since the Crimean Anschluss in 2014 has been “extremely simple: we will force you to deal with us by constantly creating new problems and threats. You don’t want a direct military clash in Syria, which might lead to a third world war? Then you must deal with Russia.” And so on.

            “Moscow occupied such a large place in the G7 talks for one single reason: it completely consciously has made its goal to become a problem or more precisely a threat to the West. Before our eyes,” Golts says, “has occurred a global redistribution of roles in international political life.”

            It is worth recalling, the Moscow commentator says, that in the early 1990s, Russia, having rejected the Soviet heritage, “sought a new place in the international arena,” one in which it could “represent the interests of the collective ‘civilized world’ in negotiations with countries which from the first were called outcasts.”

            That didn’t work hard, largely because the autocratic leaders of these countries “are not idiots. They prefer to negotiate directly with ‘the main boss.’”  And not there is a US president who relishes doing just think, talking “directly with ayatollahs and Kims” and who approaches relations in an entirely new way.

            Trump “is organically incapable for long serious negotiations with complicated compromises. It is no accident that instead of talks about tariffs, he simply began a trade war with China. He is bored by coordinating positions in the declaration of the seven. But he seriously needs foreign policy successes.”

            Consequently, Golts continues, Trump “has taken on himself the role of the main negotiator with ‘the outcasts.’ His most important victory became the largely senseless meeting with Kim Jong-un,” where he cancelled US-South Korean exercises, something real, in exchange for Kim’s promises about the future, something not.

            But Trump didn’t and doesn’t care because he got what he wanted: “an effective picture on television.”  And now it is Putin’s turn. The Kremlin leader probably will get something real that he wants in exchange for meaningless promises because that will allow his American counterpart to claim victory.

            The American concessions will be a mistake given that they will do nothing to dissuade Putin from his aggressive foreign policy and repressive domestic one, especially in that Putin isn’t about to give up anything he really cares about when he can achieve part of his goals by making unenforceable promises.

            “However, even this likely tactical win will not be able to hide the new strategic reality … Russia finally has been confirmed in the role of the main outcast of the planet, a state from which one can only expect something bad.  That is what Putin is condemned to be in Trump’s scenario. And this is much more important any possible [Russian] successes.”

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