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Avigdor Eskin

The US-Russia summit: a pattern for success

The Russian-Israeli commentator Avigdor Eskin offers his take on the Trump-Putin summit, arguing in favour of an honest exchange of views, as well as cooperation between the two powers.

Published: July 14, 2018, 12:19 pm

    The upcoming US-Russia summit gives us a unique opportunity for both global and detailed analysis of the Kremlin’s policies and Western interests, in the same breath. In order to have an opinion one needs to have an overall picture, based on verified and precise facts. Unfortunately, most of the analytic publications in the US on the matter of Russian affairs are totally withdrawn from reality. One can despise Russia or be in love with her, but first one must be familiar with the subject and not to be dependent on a fake reality.

    We have chosen to enter the discussion with reference to two pessimistic articles written by two distinguished individuals, one of whom was a master in the practical side of intelligence craft and the second – a brilliant and experienced State Department senior employee.

    Unfortunately, nobody asks the question which must precede all the discussions: what is good for the US and for the world from the perspective of relations between Washington and Moscow? Any sober person would agree that friendly, constructive or at least mutually beneficial relations should be a clear priority. We may refer our readers to the precedents of friendship and cooperation during the Second World War and in the nineties. This proves that not only mutual deterrence is possible, but even effective strategic cooperation. There is doubt about the USA’s peaceful and positive intentions. On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the USA is the strongest and the most prosperous country on the planet today. But we must also comprehend that Russia is interested in improving relations, even more so than the US. So who created the obstacles and how could they be removed if both sides have a genuine interest in moving in this direction?

    Straight away, the pessimists bring up the allegations of Russian meddling in US internal affairs including some dirty games with marginal groups such as the “Alt-right” and “Black Lives Matter”, according to such top intelligence figures as Michael Hayden and James Clapper. One does not have to be “pro-Putin” in order to ask: why did they meddle? Did they want to change the US system as could have happened during the communist rule over there? Were they initiating cyber war with the USA or were they just responding to the Obama administration’s aggressive interference in their affairs?

    Russians can bring to the summit tons of material to show how different Russian NGOs were supported by US government institutions, both directly and indirectly – while those NGOs were engaged in anti-government campaigns in the country. We know how the Obama administration paid for newspaper ads against Israeli prime minister Netanyahu – this was discussed in Congress. It would be little wonder if they did it against Putin on a much broader scale.

    In any case, everybody will agree that the motives of Russian cyber meddling were only reactive and defensive from their point of view. The Kremlin wanted to accomplish some cyber deterrence and if so – the way of putting an end to such behaviour would lie in coming to terms with them on the basis of a mutually-respected “anti-meddling deal” which could be easily accomplished now. What can be argued against such an agreement during the coming summit? No prize to anybody for misbehaviour in the past but a mutually beneficial agreement for the future.

    Another argument from the pessimists is a deepening in the conflict of interests between Moscow and Washington on former Soviet republics who wish to now join NATO. This refers mostly to Ukraine and Georgia. Firstly, we must remind the skeptics that NATO’s advancement towards the East during the post-Soviet epoch cannot be considered as a response to Russian imperialistic yearnings. The fact is that these were former Warsaw Pact and former Soviet republics who wanted to join the Alliance and is not part of any Western initiative against Russia.

    However, nobody in the Kremlin could be happy about this advance towards the East. Let us say that Putin’s inner circle became very much concerned about NATO’s expansion. Again, their response to this was therefore reactive. Moscow did not initiate any geopolitical changes but was rather reacting to NATO expansion.

    One can condemn Russia for granting official recognition to Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia – two separatist autonomous areas in Georgia. Nevertheless the original Russian military presence there was for the sake of a ceasefire agreed to by both sides. The pessimists should also be honest enough to recognize that this was the fault of President Saakashvili on August 8 2008, when his military force attacked Russian soldiers in Southern Ossetia. The Kremlin’s further support of Abkhazia and Southern Ossetia’s so-called independence with Russian military presence may be seen as illegal occupation. But the whole matter and its possible resolution require an open discussion in good spirit without using insulting and derogatory terms. When the pessimists compare the policies of Putin with early Nazi-German expansionism, they make serious and constructive negotiations impossible.

    Unfortunately, very few people know what is really going on in this troubled region. Moreover, the really painful problem there is the plight of two hundred thousand Georgian refugees who were brutally expelled from their homes in 1993 by the Abkhazians with the help of different Caucasian Islamist groups.

    And is it so clear that the immediate Georgian entrance into the Alliance is such an absolute US geopolitical necessity? One should look at the current behaviour of former President Saakashvili and ask again if this matter should not be raised and negotiated in any case?

    The situation in Ukraine is also very complicated. Any US political figure must be aware of the fact that numerous streets there are named after Nazi war criminals (instead of carrying the names of Lenin and Marx). There is a policy of glorifying Nazi butchers on at government level in that country. Ukraine is the most corrupt place in Europe and the human-rights record there is no different from the infamous Donbas system (an area ruled by pro-Russian separatists). There are no good and bad guys there but rather a very tragic and confusing situation.

    The pessimists are right: Washington could take advantage of the conflicts in Ukraine and in Georgia during a period of tension and hostility with Russia. But at the same time we must keep in mind the true picture of the events there and find ways of cooperating with Moscow to restore stability in those countries.

    Moreover, we see how US and Russian interests concur in Syria. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell said explicitly that Assad should rather be part of a solution since he is not an Islamist radical. Morell added that Iran does present a geopolitical and security threat. But at this point in time Russians totally agree that the Iranians should go home. And they did not put any obstacles before the Israeli military operations in Syria which resulted in massive destruction of Iranian infrastructure.

    Now we can see how some CIA operators and the State Department elders may be great at getting the data, but not so good at doing more global analysis and in providing reasonably precise analysis.

    The president of  the “Jellyfish” intelligence boutique and think tank in Washington, Michael Bagley, was absolutely right when he called for both parties rather to look into future prospects including possible economic joint economic in such places as Libya and the Middle East. Such an approach towards the future will highly likely be the “win–win” strategy for both sides.

    Ironically, the pessimists have overlooked the most deplorable and potentially dangerous side of Russian political behaviour until now. Nobody in the USA paid attention to the fact that all three major government TV channels in Russia are involved in not less then three hours a day of horrendous hate propaganda. There are special political talk shows in Russia that have no analogy elsewhere in the world, with the exception of Ukraine. This needs to be brought to Russians’ attention. Russian news and opinion should avoid hate propaganda.

    One must put aside one’s feelings towards Russia and stick to the US interest. The worst thing to do with the Russians is to push them to the wall. All of a sudden they, possibly, will be capable of an unprecedented demonstration of strength. Even if they are much weaker economically and militarily than before. Instead of sanctions, open doors, friendly dialogue and useful cooperation should be pursued.

    Imagine if President Trump could back from the meeting with the President of Russia and were able to announce: “I made sure that the Russians would never again meddle in our elections.” The same day the Russian President would be able to tell his people: “We will never again face any US intervention in our affairs.”

    And then working groups on concrete issues could form under the “win-win” banner.

    Avigdor Eskin

    opinion@freewestmedia.com

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