15 August 2020 07:19 AM

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ANURADHA CHENOY | 18 JANUARY, 2017

Russia- US: New Cold War or Spy vs Spy?


NEW DELHI: If there is one foreign policy position that President Trump is clear about, it is his determination to have a détente with Russia. It is equally clear that the US deep state along with US liberals and neo conservative lobby are determined to circumvent Trump’s policies, especially any détente with Russia. So who will trump whom in this already macabre politics?

The FBI in a confidential dossier (sources unknown) has alleged that the Russians on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin deliberately hacked into the Democratic National Committee, with the knowledge that this would disrupt American democracy and thereby encourage the electorate to vote for Trump.

The New York Times and other media are convinced this is the case, and are feeding on the fact that large sections of US public opinion (80%) see Russia as a major threat. Trump and his supporters do not agree that Russia influenced their choice. But this does not seem to matter.

The pressure from the US establishment has been so strong that Trump at one point has been forced to concede that there may have been some truth in these allegations and the new Secretary of State Rex Tilerson, former CEO of Exxon Mobil, known to have had many deals with Russia on gas, during the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee displayed a mellow picture of his otherwise strong stand on business transactions with Moscow.

The reason for the climb down is that anyone who attempts to counter the dominant claim is labeled as a Kremlin apologist- (anti-national). Some of the best experts on Russia in the US like Stephen Cohen and even Henry Kissinger who questioned the authenticity of sources cited of Russian hacking have been boxed and labeled as Russian stooges. This sounds very much like a repeat of McCarthyism, when in the 1950’s the FBI labeled dissent as ‘communist’ and fear replaced freedom of speech.

Sadly, the liberals who have always fought bravely for free speech and debate are part of this game. This is not to say that they are wrong about Trumps misogyny, hatred for the others who are different, his horrific suggestions on healthcare, immigration etc. But to say this is all at the behest of Putin appears exaggerated.

It is common knowledge that the US intervenes actively in regime change and policy change in other countries. So much of the Global South who is tired of US interventions feel that they have got a bit of their own poison, and so are largely unconcerned. And the spy vs spy between USA and Russia has gone as they say ‘viral’ regardless of the fall of communism and the rise of capitalism globally. At the same time, there appears to be a complete lack of confidence in US democracy, if there is such widespread belief that Russia can manipulate the US public with one computer hack.

So what will this mean for US foreign policy, US-Russia relations, that are likely to determine a lot of inter related foreign policy issues? Trump is likely to stick to his point of trying to lift sanctions on Russia but with ‘conditions’. This is because he is a deal maker and at stake is the Exxon Mobile- Russia gas deal of US$ 500 billion of 2011, the biggest financial deal in world history. Trump sees that as his card of reviving the US economy, in collaboration with a tamed Russia.

But will Russia and Putin, who is also skilled at deal making accept these conditions? After all Putin knows that the US has betrayed Russia before, several times. From starting a Cold War after being a Soviet ally in the Second World War, to the Gorbachev and Yeltsin times of promising aid if Russia became capitalist and then back out.

Clearly, Putin would like to have some détente with the US and carry on gas and oil collaborations and normalize trade. This would spell prosperity for both. But at the same time, Trump’s National Security Advisors and team mates are also intensely Islamophobic and would like to have interventionist policies with Iran, including going back on the Iran nuclear deal. So Putin will not give into many US demands even for the sake of some gas deal.

Trump also would like to step down expenses incurred on NATO and de-escalate some tensions. But again, the Obama administration trumped him by sending in more troops into Poland, as the last major European policy move. Moscow certainly does not like more troops on its borders. But will wait and watch.

Putin will want Trump to acknowledge Russia’s regional interests in West Asia, maintain status quo in Syria, allow Russian say in Central Asia and Afghanistan. How much Trump will accept this is yet to unfold. Russia has got strategically linked to China. Putin had no option but to engage with the Chinese in the face of sanctions and treats from the US.

Trump is an unknown card in US foreign policy and therefore in world affairs. The American liberals and deep state know that and will try and control the new president. That might be good if they can control him on his regressive domestic politics.

The point that is being lost is that Russia and the US do need to engage and talk of many things. They have severe differences on policies towards Ukraine, Crimea, Georgia, Syria. The US has levied unilateral sanctions against Russia. There is a clear rise of a New Cold War, an increase in militarism, in allegations and threat perceptions.

In this narrative the real threats and insecurities, of terrorism, rising fundamentalisms, increasing inequalities and oppressions are getting lost.

(Anuradha Chenoy is Professor at the School of International Studies, Jawaharal Nehru University, New Delhi)

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