COMMENTARY: Why Russia Cannot Become Our Friend – Memo to President Trump

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Putin does not represent democracy or free trade, Putin represents communism disguised as democracy, and his goal is not a free world, but a dictatorship, a one world government, a totalitarian regime. He has been proving this during his years in power and has admitted it himself. But, the propaganda is so strong that people have fallen into the trap of believing that he is fighting against a world government. On the other hand, Trump’s ignorance does not allow him to see the truth and he thinks he will be able to ‘negotiate’ with someone who is backed by a force that is not from this world. Judaism created Communism and Communism represents evil. 

Putin

“Why Russia Cannot Become Our Friend: Memo to President Trump,” Source: forbes.com

I attended a small meeting at Stanford as the primaries went into full swing. The get-together included several former senior members of the Obama and Bush administrations. They agreed that the new President, irrespective of party, will try a new reset with Putin.  Yes, Trump has made clear his intent to explore “good relations” with Russia and fulfill “a central [campaign] promise…to forge a working partnership with Russia, turning an old adversary into an ally in combating terrorist networks overseas and other global threats that bedeviled President Barack Obama.” Were Hillary Clinton President-elect, she would sooner or later be making the same announcement.

Regrettably, the prospects for a successful negotiation with Putin over the “unsatisfactory condition of Russian-American relations” are near zero for the following reasons:

The Putin regime requires confrontation with the US for its very survival, while Trump must deliver “beautiful deals” that “make American great again.” If Trump were to sign a deal which does not yield real enforceable concessions by Putin on Crimea, east Ukraine, or the Middle East, Trump’s deal-making image would be shattered along with his presidency.

As Trump prepares to go head-to-head with Putin, he must understand what Germany’s Angela Merkel describes as Putin’s “parallel world.” In any negotiation, Putin will be fighting for the survival of his regime and himself. Putin has remarkably turned Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” on its head. According to the Kremlin narrative, it is the United States and its puppet NATO that are intent on dismembering Russia. The US has become the “evil empire” bent on imposing its corrupt political (after WikiLeaks) and civilizational values on Russia, the last great bastion of Christianity, patriotism, morality, and good will.

Putin justifies his repression of his own people, his sacrifice of economic welfare, his isolation of Russia, and his risky military adventurism as the necessary defense of a “besieged fortress.” Any deal with Trump that establishes a “satisfactory condition” of Russian-American relations removes the justification for Putin’s kleptocracy, Russia’s costly military buildup, and for Putin himself.

Sweden’s tri-annual Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective offers a sobering picture of the Kremlin military doctrine that Russia is under constant threat from the West by so-called color revolutions (orchestrated by the CIA) that seek to overthrow the “legitimate” government of Russia. To protect itself, Russia has struck back by annexing Crimea, attacking Georgia and eastern Ukraine, pressuring Belarus and Moldova, intervening in Syria, and increasing repressive controls at home.

Opinion polls show that non-stop state propaganda has convinced the Russian people that Russia is indeed a besieged fortress, the armed forces are to be trusted, more resources must be devoted to defense (at the expense of living standards), and that young Russians should not avoid military service. The percentage of respondents with “bad/very bad” opinions of the US rose from 34 percent to 60 percent between 2012 to present. The EU fared even worse with negative opinion rising from 21 to 60 percent. All pretense of democratic elections was dispelled with the managed parliamentary elections of 2016.

Putin’s Stalinesque claim that all social and political unrest is instigated from abroad renders virtually every truckers’ strike, miners’ protest, or critical Facebook posting a CIA, US State Department, or Germany BND operation. External aggression and internal repression blur the distinction between the armed services and national guards and militias which are tasked with domestic security. Putin’s National Guard, commanded by a loyalist, numbers close to 400,000 plus tanks, helicopters, and tanks to “fight terrorism.” A “terrorist” in Putin’s vocabulary is anyone who poses a threat to “the Russian state’” namely to Putin himself.

Official Russian military doctrine asserts that the US wishes a restoration of a hegemonic world in which it is the sole superpower. Russia’s resurgence has spoiled that ambition. The US covets Russia’s natural resources, especially those in Siberia. If Russian state’s ambitious Hitler-Jugend-like youth programs succeed, the West will have problems even after Putin’s departure.

The Russian narrative claims its struggle is for the future of civilization itself. Russia must therefore be prepared to deploy its nuclear weapons “as a primary tool for foreign policy coercion.” Russia has explicitly singled out former Soviet bloc countries that have entered or are entering the Western orbit as a clear and present danger. If this threat escalates, Russia must be prepared to intervene. If Russian forces are outgunned, there is always the nuclear option.

The Swedish report on Russian military doctrine concludes on this pessimistic note: “The authoritarian direction of Russian politics coupled with the strong use of enemy images to legitimize policies will be most difficult to reverse for the Russian political leadership without undermining its position of power….Opportunities to change the policy to a more Western-friendly approach have diminished.” In other words, Trump will face in Putin a negotiating partner with limited room to move.

This will be the situation Donald Trump faces as he sits down across the table from Vladimir Putin.

Trump may believe that he has strong cards and Putin has a weak hand. After all, the Russian economy is in the dumps, sanctions limit Russia’s ability to borrow, a US energy surge is keeping energy prices low, and Trump is rebuilding the American armed forces. Currently, the US spends six times more on defense than Russia.

Putin’s cards are, however, stronger than they appear. Internal dissent has been smashed. He has centralized power in his own hands, while Trump must work with allies, who are being pulled apart by national interests and by Russian meddling. Putin’s propaganda machine has kept the Russian people on board despite a defense buildup (to 5.4 percent of GDP) at the sacrifice of living standards (down 15 percent) and public health. Putin can rattle the nuclear saber to offset the US’s stronger military. Unlike the US presidential cycle that requires quick results, Putin can play a long hand with the presumption that time is on his side.

In his few public statements on the subject, Trump has declared that the US and Russia’s shared interest in fighting ISIS will provide the foundation for improved relations. Despite frenetic efforts of the outgoing Secretary of State to find this common ground, the outgoing US Secretary of Defense declared in frustration that the Russians “haven’t done anything to fight ISIS.”  In fact, Russia does not perceive itself, despite its own 20 million ethnic Muslims, at risk from Islamic terrorism. Russia has suffered only eight Islamic terrorist attacks, killing 708, mostly in remote regions. Putin has used terrorist incidents for political advantage. In Chechnya, Putin has a private army led by a loyalist ready to kill not only terrorists but their families.Putin is confident his police state can infiltrate Islamic groups. So far, Russia’s Syrian air war has targeted regime opponents, not ISIS.Events do not support the notion that Russia is a natural ally against Islamic extremism.

The Middle East offers few prospects for agreement. Iran and Russia are allies, have strong commercial ties, and Iran is the world’s largest supporter of international terrorism, which destabilizes the Western world, to Russia’s delight. Russia has demonstrated that it will use all its military power to keep client Assad in power. Nor does Russia want to help Europe with its refugee crisis because the influx of Middle Easterners is destabilizing the European Union, whose disintegration is one of Putin’s major goals.

Turning to Ukraine: Trump can be sure that Putin will not give up Crimea. His approval rating could not survive the loss of his signal achievement. Nor will he accept a peace settlement that makes possible an independent Western-oriented Ukraine. Instead, Putin will try to bamboozle Trump with talk of “federalization,” and declare those corrupt Neo-Nazis who run Ukraine are not worth saving. Putin will insist that his Donbas puppets have veto power over Ukraine’s economic and foreign policy, while withdrawing his equipment and troops to the Russian border where they stand ready as a constant threat. The removal of sanctions will be Putin’s price for his “concessions,” but he can resume (or never stop) hybrid warfare at will.

Trump cannot afford such a deal that leaves him looking like a fool and subject to Democratic claims that he has been Russia’s Manchurian candidate all along.

Trump does have one decisive card: The bipartisan approval to supply lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine must keep Putin awake at night. Ukraine has demonstrated that it is prepared to use its blood and treasure to defend its independence. Ukraine, which is expected to resume strong economic growth this year, meets Trump’s criteria of a nation willing and able to defend itself. Unlike President Obama, Trump should have no problem approving the lethal weapons. Whereas Russia has an armed service of one million, Ukraine’s force of more than 200,000, armed with modern weapons and fighting from a defensive posture, could impose heavy casualties on Russian forces. Putin can perhaps bear the financial costs of a Ukrainian campaign, but the loss of lives of young Russian men will bury him.

A successful Ukraine poses the greatest threat to Putin. If Trump is indeed the Master of the Deal, he has a slight chance to use his one ace of spades to get from Putin what he and the American people want. The more likely outcome is an unsuccessful negotiation. No, Russia will not become America’s friend. Vladimir Putin’s regime is based on the US being enemy number one, while Donald Trump cannot enter into any deal that makes him look weak, or worse, like Putin’s puppet.