In June 2011, before the 9/11 catastrophe shook the world and before President George W Bush committed his country to endless and unwinnable wars, he met with President Putin and described their conversation as «straightforward and effective». He found Mr Putin «to be very straight forward and trustworthy and we had a very good dialogue... He’s a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country and I appreciate very much the frank dialogue and that's the beginning of a very constructive relationship».
Times changed, however, and the hawks in the Washington — the military-industrial-Congressional complex — were (and continue to be) intent on challenging Russia and China in every sphere. Among other manoeuvres, they intensified the US military presence in the South China Sea (part of the ‘Pivot to Asia’) and encouraged the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation in further military expansion round Russia’s borders. In 2004 Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia became part of the military grouping, and after Obama came to power they were joined by Albania and Croatia.
There was no possibility that the Obama administration, whose secretary of state was Hillary Clinton from 2009 to 2013, would engage in dialogue with Russia. The State Department’s blatant encouragement of the anti-Russian coup in Ukraine («Yats is the guy») confirmed Moscow’s conviction that confrontation was Washington’s inflexible policy.
As one observer wrote at the time of the Kiev coup, «the reality is that, after two decades of eastward Nato expansion, this crisis was triggered by the west’s attempt to pull Ukraine decisively into its orbit and defence structure, via an explicitly anti-Moscow EU association agreement. Its rejection led to the Maidan protests and the installation of an anti-Russian administration». The fact that the current Kiev administration is one of the most corrupt in the world is hardly surprising, but its unconditional support by the US-NATO military alliance is a sad comment on international affairs.
Might things be looking up, with a Donald Trump presidency in the offing? Clinton was totally opposed to dialogue with Russia and made it clear that if she were president she would carry on confronting because «I’ve stood up to Russia, I’ve taken on Putin and others, and I would do that as President». Trump, on the other hand, has been positive in calmly stating that «We are going to have a great relationship with China. We are going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia». You can’t get more definite than that, and in consequence his election was warmly greeted by those who prefer dialogue to war.
President Putin was guarded in his reaction to Trump’s election, and said only that «We heard the campaign slogans when he was still a candidate which were aimed at restoring relations between Russia and the United States. We understand that it will not be an easy path given the current state of degradation in the relations. And as I have repeatedly said, it’s not our fault that Russian-American relations are in such a poor state. But Russia wants and is ready to restore full-fledged relations with the United States... we are ready to play our part, and do everything to return Russian-American relations to stable and sustainable development track». In other words — It’s a good result ; but let’s wait and see what happens when the man is sitting in the Oval Office.
Will a Trump presidency result in cessation of flights of US electronic warfare aircraft up to the borders of China and Russia, which they do regularly in order to «light up» defensive radars and other systems? Will President Trump forbid the provocative coat-trailing ‘freedom of navigation’ incursions by nuclear-armed US warships in the South China Sea? And, above all things, might it mean an end to the US-NATO military build up to war?
The Secretary General of the Pentagon’s branch office in Brussels, NATO’s Jens Stoltenberg, highlighted his important global status by joining heads of state and national political leaders in noting the election result, saying that «I congratulate Donald Trump on his election as the next President of the United States and I look forward to working with President-elect Trump,» which no doubt brought a smile to the face of Mr Trump who rightly considers NATO to be ‘obsolete’ and involved with countries that his supporters have ‘never even heard of.’ He is so right, because average Americans couldn’t care less about countries that are so unimportant to their lives.
Trump knows very well that Russia has no intention of invading the Baltic states or, indeed, anywhere else, and objects greatly to the ‘freeloading’ of European NATO nations, because the US spends more on its military than anyone else. You can prove almost anything with figures, but the incontrovertible fact is that the US spends 3.6 per cent of its GDP on running its military forces while other NATO countries such as Germany, France, Canada, Turkey and Italy spend less than 2 per cent. Understandably, Trump objects to this inequality.
Yet even given his reservations about NATO, it is not clear how Mr Trump equates his desire to cool things with Russia and China with his statements that the US needs a 350 ship navy, another 90,000 soldiers, an increase in missile capability, and 100 more fighter aircraft. That doesn’t sound like a peace-producing policy, because if he intends to talk with China and Russia, and reduce the speed and thrust of the present march to war, it might seem that a vast increase in military spending would send a contradictory message. There are no other countries in the world with whom the US is likely to go to war on the scale that a conflict against either Russia and China would entail. So why does he want so much more military hardware? The threat from the Islamic State is extremely dangerous, but it doesn’t require the US army to have another 90,000 soldiers.
This is but one reason for President Putin’s ‘wait and see’ attitude. He wants rapprochement — we would all welcome rapprochement, except for the Washington military-industrial mafia — but it doesn’t look as if it’s guaranteed.
Sometimes you wonder who exactly is in charge in America, because on November 5 the commander of the US Army in Europe, General Ben Hodges, declared that «No matter who is president, no matter who controls Congress, the United States is always going to be interested and need security and stability in Europe,» which was an intriguing foreign policy statement to be made by a general. He went even further in his commitment to US military involvement overseas by saying that «my expectation is the US Army will be given the mission to continue supporting Ukraine for as far as I can see», which sentiment is directly opposed to that of his future commander-in-chief, who said in a media interview that «the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were». Of President Putin he said that «He's not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?»
President Putin will be pleased to talk with Mr Trump, and obviously has hopes that, as in his 2001 discussions with George W Bush, there might be «the beginning of a very constructive relationship». There are some indications that this could be achieved, just as there are some indications that US foreign policy under Trump will not be as confrontational as that of recent years. Yet it would be unwise to ignore the sheer power of Washington’s military-industrial mafia and such as the loudmouthed General Hodges who have been given a boost by the Trump declaration that he intends to greatly expand the country’s military capabilities.
Trump will soon pronounce on his intended foreign policy, once he has taken advice from those more knowledgeable than he is about international affairs. He seems to realise that peaceful coexistence beats belligerent confrontation, and we must hope that he will stick to his guns rather than buy a lot more of them.