The mass expulsion of Russian diplomats came as no surprise. After all, that’s why the incident known as the Skripal case was invented. The Western media knew about these plans in advance.
The West is dangerously divided into conservatives — the so-called populists — and those who champion multipolarity in the modern world. Feelings of frustration with the results of US leadership are widespread. The representatives of the West badly need something they can all rally around. Finding a common enemy is the best way to do this, and their choice has settled on Russia, since that country is sticking to its guns. Economic and information wars are in full swing and the isolation of Moscow is the coveted (although quite unachievable) goal.
The anti-Russia campaign is taking place in a particular environment, in which many things are happening at once. The US administration is going through a major reshuffle, with Pompeo and Bolton taking key positions of influence over the president’s foreign-policy decisions. Both are known as Russia hawks. The Skripal case is a European affair, but the US is expelling roughly three times as many diplomats as the UK itself, making Washington more British than London. And interestingly, it has just been revealed that the work to develop the Novichok nerve gas (A234) was done right there in the US. Moscow has documents to support this claim.
It’s an obvious attempt to discredit Vladimir Putin. At present the West is losing the ground it has held in Syria. The diplomats are expelled, the rhetoric heats up, threats are made, and further sanctions are discussed, with no evidence whatsoever produced to confirm Russia’s involvement in the spy-poisoning case.
The campaign was coordinated and prepared in advance. Looking at the headlines in the Western media, one might come to the conclusion that the organizers have accomplished their mission with flying colors. But has it really been such a success? Let’s look at the details.
The investigation is going slowly as usual and the results are never convincing, as we’ve seen in Syria. But that’s a horse of a different color. What we have today is a wave of unsubstantiated accusations that have been made without waiting for the OPCW to offer any conclusions.
According to its intelligence reports, at least 20 other countries manufacture and stockpile that nerve gas. This fits with what Moscow has been saying, but the West refuses to listen. It needs unanimity before the NATO summit in July and an external threat to justify rise in military expenditures up to 2% of GDP.
The US has not limited itself to the expulsion of diplomats but has also closed the Russian consulate in Seattle. Additional sanctions are being weighed. This time President Trump is following the advice of his new NSA-designate, demonstrating that he is in a tight spot and has to relent. Moscow will respond, which will greatly complicate the work of the US missions there, including American intelligence efforts. The administration’s reaction shows that the US president cannot resist pressure after 14 months in office.
Does it mean that this tit-for-tat war last forever? Is it all doom and gloom? Will the day come when the US president can stand tall and do things his own way? The only condition for a dialog on Moscow’s part is the mutual realization of the fact that there is no return to the period of late 1980-1990s when NATO kept Russia out in the cold while taking decisions on security issues, such as the bombardment of Serbia in 1999 or illegally making Kosovo a separate state. The inclusion of Russia into the Partnership for Peace program did not prevent the bloc’s expansion to its borders as well as the West’s attempts to marginalize it internationally. This is the time for a dialog on equal terms.
Let’s take a look at the near-term prospects. The House of Representatives has wrapped up its Russiagate investigation with nothing to show for it. It looks like all of Special Counsel Mueller’s efforts are leading nowhere. When it’s all over and the dust has settled, Donald Trump will have more wiggle room on his Russia policy. He faces the mid-term elections in November. A summit with the Russian leader held to address burning issues so vital for US security could boost Republican chances. After all, Russia is the only country in the world that can annihilate the US. Like it or not, that’s what it is to be treated accordingly. The agenda could include arms control, military activities, bilateral ties, N. Korea, Syria, Ukraine, the Islamic State (IS) and coordination of diplomatic efforts to settle the conflict in Libya.
John Bolton is the right man to contribute into organizing such an event. Known as an inveterate hawk, he would keep the haters of Russia in check. As an old hand at arms control and security issues, he knows the ropes and realizes how important it is for his country. Mr. Bolton is personally acquainted with many leading experts and high placed officials in Moscow. Russian Ambassador to the US, Anatoly Antonov, is also dry behind the ears. They can hold professional and pragmatic discussions to prepare the event.
Strategic stability and arms control are the most promising areas where progress can be achieved. Despite all the expulsions and other things to negatively affect the relationship, the chiefs of staff regularly talk to each other and the leaders discuss the prospects for top level talks.
Until now the US president has steered clear of personal attacks and avoided direct finger-pointing. President Putin realizes that Donald Trump has been dealing with domestic difficulties. Putin has been patiently waiting. Despite all the snags on the way, some progress had been achieved with a full-fledged summit on the horizon.
President Trump has invited the Russian leader to visit him in Washington. Such a meeting will take at least a few months to prepare, probably this fall, if it all goes smoothly. The place could also be a neutral country, such as Finland or Slovenia. The two leaders could meet in Argentina, where a G20 summit will take place in November. With no evidence to produce, the hue and cry raised over the Skripal case will gradually die down.
The summit has not been canceled and the ties have not been severed. A shred of hope is still left. The only thing to do is to keep our fingers crossed for better days ahead. But some questions do arise. You cannot build a long-tern relationship with someone whose hands are tied with no prospects of freeing them. After all, the US needs this dialog just as much as Russia does.