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16 Jul, 2018 06:33

Breaking a downward spiral: Trump-Putin meeting a breakthrough regardless of practical outcome

Breaking a downward spiral: Trump-Putin meeting a breakthrough regardless of practical outcome

The US and Russian leaders will meet in an atmosphere of open animosity towards Russia in the West. In this context, the very fact of the meeting, which part of the US establishment sought to derail, could be deemed a success.

A summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is a much-anticipated event and it is also long overdue. As unhinged Russophobia increasingly grips the West and relations between two of the world's major powers hit a historic low since the Cold War, a meeting between the two leaders might at least slow down the continued slide towards even greater confrontation if not really improve the troubled relations between Moscow and Washington.

The extraordinary circumstances surrounding this meeting make it a sort of victory of proponents of common sense over those who seek to push their own narrow interests at the expense of international relations and, eventually, global security.

Long & thorny path to dialogue

During his election campaign in 2016 and after his inauguration, Trump said repeatedly that he would like to have better relations with Russia, which had already soured on the last leg of Barack Obama's second presidential term over Syria and Ukraine. His position that having good ties with Russia is better for the US brought on him the additional ire of the liberal 'resistance' and the establishment amid the Mueller probe into alleged election meddling and collusion that hasn't produced much evidence, but generated high costs and daily debates.

Trump's presidency has seen further deterioration of relations between Moscow and Washington. When a diplomatic row began under the Obama administration and saw diplomats expelled, Russia chose not to retaliate, waiting for Trump's actions. Under his administration, however, sanctions have been slapped on Moscow, diplomats have been expelled, and Russian diplomatic compounds have been searched.

Moscow condemned Washington's moves at that time, calling it the "behavior of raiders" and accusing the US of violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The US ignored Russia's objections and once again broke into a Russian diplomatic compound. This followed more expulsions in response to London's baseless accusation that Moscow poisoned the former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK.

This time, the US also went so far as to boot out Russian diplomats working at the UN headquarters in New York, in what Moscow called a violation of international agreements.

Coupled with unfettered Russophobia following the worst patterns of McCarthyism that swayed the minds of a significant part of the US establishment and the media community, this policy brought relations between the two countries to within a hair's breadth of a red line separating political animosity from open conflict.

The US named Russia among the major threats in its Nuclear Posture Review, and it sought ways to bypass one of the cornerstones of the international disarmament regime – the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty – all in the name of countering perceived "aggressive strategies" by Russia. It has therefore become clear that the US officials preoccupied with anti-Russian conspiracies, which they themselves contrived, have lost touch with reality and are ready to put the world on the brink of a new arms race, if not a new global war, in a bid to protect Washington's dominance in the world.

Even at the beginning of his presidency, Trump admitted that US-Russian relations had hit a historic low. Since that time, the situation has seemingly become much worse. With US-Russian relations reduced to "sporadic meetings between diplomats and military," as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov recently put it, a meeting that could overcome this confrontational narrative of bilateral relations by the mere fact of it taking place would have extreme significance.

Hopes & expectations

Even though the meeting apparently already has enough symbolic meaning to make holding it a worthy goal, both sides also have certain expectations of the event. Quite reasonably, Moscow sees the summit primarily as a way to just restore dialog between the two nations and add some common sense in bilateral relations.

If Trump and Putin manage to "re-open all the channels [of dialog] on both divisive issues… and those issues where we can usefully cooperate," such an outcome of the meeting could be called "ideal," Lavrov told Larry King in a recent interview. The US and NATO, which together spend 12 times more money on defense than Russia, has yet to "understand that it cannot dictate to each and every country how to handle international security matters," the minister said, adding that "dialogue is required."

His words were partly echoed by the Russian president's aide, Yury Ushakov, who said that the Kremlin sees the goal of the meeting as "changing the negative situation in relations between the US and Russia," as well as "bringing mutual trust to some acceptable level." However, Moscow is apparently also reluctant to set its hopes high as Ushakov said that the Russian side does not expect the two leaders to even issue a joint statement following the summit.

Such a stance perfectly fits into Moscow's general approach that involves readiness to "build bridges" with the US, which it prefers to see as a "partner" despite its "regrettable" security strategy. The US expectations for the summit, meanwhile, look much vaguer as Washington seemingly still cannot define its own attitude to its negotiating partner.

Over the days preceding the summit, Trump has already called Putin a "competitor" and said that the US was "tougher on Russia than anybody." At the same time, he also repeatedly stated that "if we could develop a relationship, it would be good for Russia and good for us, good for everybody."

On Sunday, the US president told CBS that he is going into the meeting with "low expectations." He added that "nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out of it."

According to the US ambassador to Russia, Trump would like to meet Putin one-on-one to actually understand if Russia wants good relations with the US. The US president himself, meanwhile, admitted that he still "cannot say" if Moscow is Washington's "friend or foe."

Notably, neither Moscow nor Washington spoke about any concrete agreements that could be reached as a result of the talks, which makes one presume that, in a practical sense, the results of the summit would hardly be significant.

"The main purpose of the meeting is to highlight the need to restore direct lines of communication at many levels between the US and Russian governments and civil society that were severed by the Obama administration following the Crimea referendum," Gilbert Doctorow, political analyst and author, told RT. "There is a great deal to be accomplished in restoring normal, civilized relations between the two countries first," he added.

Meanwhile, Jim Jatras, a Washington DC-based attorney, political analyst, and media and government affairs specialist, believes that the meeting will not result in a practical agreement – not only because of the sorry state of US-Russian relations – but also because "while Putin is master in his 'house,' Trump is not in his."

"There is virtually no instruction Trump can give to the Washington apparatus of power he can be confident will be carried out," Jatras told RT, noting that the establishment and media "tried to prevent his election, then tried to neutralize him after he won, and is still trying to find a means to remove him, my any means possible."

Russophobia in West goes into overdrive

The US establishment as well as at least some of Washington's Western allies have, meanwhile, spared no effort to prevent or at least spoil the forthcoming summit. The US media are almost competing to provide their audiences with most bizarre conspiracy theories about possible collusion between Trump and Putin as a renewed push to promote the narrative that has become increasingly threadbare over the last couple of years.

In one of the most vivid examples of such dizzying feats, New York magazine claimed that the US leader was actually a Russian spy since at least 1987. The US neocons were also not too far behind the media as they suggested that US National Security Advisor John Bolton, who is actually known as an arch-hawk and war cheerleader, might well be Putin's stooge just because he traveled to Moscow to discuss the details of the meeting between the two leaders.

The crux of the matter was the US Justice Department's announcement that 12 people identified as "Russian intelligence officers" had been indicted for hacking the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The news conveniently came just days ahead of the meeting, prompting Moscow to say that the move was aimed at spoiling the upcoming summit in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the British establishment and journalists launched their own verbal assault on the Kremlin following yet another chemical incident on the British soil, even though the UK has so far provided no evidence linking even the March poisoning of Skripals to Moscow, not to mention the new incident, which was predictably immediately blamed on Russia without any proof being presented.

"For the establishment, US-Russia enmity isn't a means to an end – it is the end," Jatras said, commenting on the issue. He told RT that Washington effectively sees Russia as "an obstacle to continued US global hegemony and the huge flows of money spread around, both at home and abroad, [used] to sustain it.

"Anything less than endless hostility is a direct threat to the financial wellbeing and ideological core of a vast army of mandarins," he added.

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