It is to be welcomed that US President Donald Trump got on the phone this week to congratulate Russian leader Vladimir Putin over the latter’s presidential election victory last weekend.
Trump said it was “a good call” and that both leaders discussed cooperation on a range of international issues, including avoiding an arms race, North Korea, and Syria. They have reportedly agreed to hold a bilateral meeting soon.
It is deplorable that the leaders of the two most powerful nuclear states have not yet held a full bilateral meeting either in Washington DC or in Moscow. The inertia stems from the American side, despite Trump’s avowed desire to restore friendly relations with Russia.
Trump and Putin have met only briefly on two occasions over the past 14 months since Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. But those meetings were rather passing encounters while both were attending multilateral forums. A summit-style meeting held over several days between the two leaders is long overdue.
But of course, the anti-Russia politics holding sway in the US and among certain American NATO allies have made any such proper meeting a toxic prospect.
Trump is accused of being somehow beholden to Putin due to far-fetched allegations of Russian electoral collusion or interference. Russia on the other hand is assailed for all sorts of imagined transgressions, including alleged aggression in Ukraine.
The polarized geopolitical situation is lamentable. Especially given the apparent willingness on the part of Trump and Putin to make progress towards normalizing relations. The leaders are being held hostage by an agenda of Russophobia pushed by certain political circles in Washington and other Western capitals.
Trump was immediately attacked this week by Republicans and Democrats following his phone call to Putin. He was rebuked for not challenging Putin over allegations of Russian meddling in US elections and over the apparent poisoning of a former British double agent in England earlier this month.
These charges against Russia, like so many others, are ridiculously overblown. Unsubstantiated and unproven, the charges are repeated and multiplied in a climate of hysteria. The British alleged poison case is but the latest classic example from the mold of presumption of Russian guilt without evidence.
Trump was right to make the call to Putin. It is customary diplomatic protocol for world leaders to exchange good wishes over elections. It is only the hyped-up anti-Russia claims over the past few years and in particular the latest episode regarding Britain that have instilled an unwarranted toxicity into what should be normal international relations.
But it is disturbing that the American president was obliged to defend himself from his political detractors over what should have been a normal courtesy call.
The furore over Trump’s call to Putin demonstrates how destructive the bilateral relation between the US and Russia has become.
Trump deserves credit for not caving into the irrational hostility towards Russia shown by too many in Washington and among the US news media.
Nevertheless one phone call and vague pledges of cooperation are far from satisfactory given the ominous geopolitical climate. President Trump may have a reasonable personal view towards Russia, but he appears to be surrounded by a milieu of inveterate hostility towards Moscow.
There are several ominous scenarios for potential catastrophic conflict. American threats to militarily strike Syria over contrived pretexts concerning chemical weapons; the US supplying lethal weapons to the fascistic Kiev regime in Ukraine; and Washington’s threats of sanctions disrupting Russia’s gas exports to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline – are all urgent risks to global peace. Fears of a world war breaking out are not at all misplaced.
American animosity towards Russia, as well as towards China, is strategic and structural in nature. It has to do with American loss of hegemonic power in the context of an emerging multipolar world order. The epochal problem can hardly be resolved through the aegis of individual political leaders working in isolation from systemic causes.
Given the climate of tensions and ominous dangers of confrontation, the American and Russian leaderships must at the very least engage in earnest dialogue to try to transcend systemic contradictions.
The occasional cordial phone call from an American president to the Russian leader is far from satisfactory in the face of global challenges to world peace.
The Russian leadership under President Vladimir Putin has grasped the vital importance of an earnest engagement for world peace. Lamentably, there appears to be no reciprocal American leadership under Donald Trump. That is a foreboding failure of American politics.