Staunton, July 19 – The Western media has generally been horrified and the Russian media celebratory about the many policy positions Donald Trump has taken that correspond to those most desired by Vladimir Putin up to the point of questioning fundamental Western institutions like NATO and its Article 5 guarantees.
But less attention has been paid in the Western media although not that much less in Moscow outlets to the US leader’s invocation of Putin’s insistence on the centrality of World War II and the Soviet Union’s role in it as foundation stones for the international system not only in the wake of that conflict but now and in the future.
Putin has used the Soviet contribution to the defeat of Hitler as a universal solvent to dissolve any criticism of the Soviet regime or his own. Because we beat the Nazis, he argues, we shouldn’t be attacked. But the Kremlin leader has also insisted that because of that contribution, the West must defer to Russia now and in the future and accept its geopolitical vision.
No one questions either Soviet contributions to the defeat of Hitler or the massive losses that the peoples of the USSR suffered, but given the way in which Stalin and subsequent Soviet leaders used their victory to impose Soviet control over half of Europe, demanding that a conflict which ended more than 70 years ago be the basis of current international policy is a stretch.
Until this week, American presidents have respectfully acknowledged the Soviet contribution despite what followed after 1945; but they have not accepted the Russian view that the agreements at its end including at Yalta and Potsdam must remain guiding lights for relations. The world has changed too much for that.
But now, in the wake of the Helsinki summit, that appears to have changed. The Moscow newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, headlined its report on Trump’s comments to Fox News “Trump: ‘America and the Entire World are Obligated to Russia for the Victory over Fascist Germany” (kp.ru/daily/26857.4/3899059/).
In fact, as the article shows with its quotations from Trump’s remarks, the US leader did not go quite that far. He did say that “in World War II, Russia lost 50 million people and helped us gain the victory over Hitler.”
That statement is problematic in two ways. On the one hand, many of the millions of Soviet citizens who died – and even the most expansive Russian commentators do not put that figure at 50, a significant share were not ethnic Russians. It was a Soviet contribution not merely a Russian one, all of Putin’s propaganda notwithstanding.
And on the other, Trump’s words were sufficiently ambiguous to be open to the very interpretation the Moscow newspaper and probably many in the Kremlin give them. He has accepted Putin’s view that World War II remains central and that the world must base its decisions with that as a starting point.
For many of the peoples in between Moscow and Berlin, that is an even more frightening future than even talk about the United States not living up to its treaty responsibilities to come to the aid of any of its fellow NATO members who may be attacked by the only country in Europe that has shown itself willing to use aggression to advance its foreign policy goals.
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