All Roads Lead to Russia

Putin’s Goals

Last month Donald Trump put an exclamation point on what we’ve known for some time. All roads lead to Russia. From the 2016 campaign throughout his presidency to date, Trump has steadfastly placed Russia’s interests over ours.

Stunning as it may sound, I believe the Russians expected this result. When Trump was declared the winner in 2016, the Duma, Russia’s lower house of parliament, erupted in applause. In 2019 a report emerged about a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office that validated Russia’s reaction. There, Trump told two senior Russian officials he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the U.S. election. What a gift to Vladimir Putin.

Look at what Putin hoped to achieve. It’s no secret that his goal is to increase Russia’s global influence by diminishing that of the United States. His wish list also includes dividing and weakening the Western alliance, principally NATO. And finally, he wants to make the democratic way of government unappealing while demonstrating the superiority of his autocratic rule. Has Putin been successful? We need only look at Trump’s record.

Withdrawing from Treaties

With friends like Trump, who needs enemies? That might very well be the attitude of our heretofore allies. Trump has shown no interest in maintaining alliances or treaties. I doubt he’s even read a summary of the treaties he’s walked away from

In August Trump withdrew from the INF (intermediate nuclear forces) Agreement, ending a landmark arms control pact. This is expected to generate a new arms race. Freeing up Russia’s ability to test and deploy new generations of advanced missiles will threaten America’s allies in western Europe. Who benefits?

In October the Trump administration announced its plan to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies. This treaty allows member states to conduct unarmed surveillance over one another’s territories and helps verify arms control agreements. This withdrawal now allows Putin to make troop movements in areas in Eastern Ukraine beyond the eyes of western security. Who benefits?

Withdrawing From Agreements

His most notable withdrawal from an agreement is perhaps the Iran Nuclear Accord. The reason: it was only for a limited period and didn’t address Iran’s non-nuclear weapons and missile programs. That was among his first breaks with our allies—except Israel—who wanted to retain but fix it. Of course, he had (or has) no plan on how to replace it. Yes, Iran is suffering from the reintroduction of sanctions, but it’s also become more aggressive in the Persian Gulf. And which friend of Iran benefits?

And finally, there is Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Climate Accord. Despite pleas from our principal allies, Trump argued that this agreement was not in America’s interest. So, America became a pariah in the most pressing issue facing the worldwide community today. Who benefits when the U.S. is viewed as a pariah?

NATO

As if withdrawal of treaties was not enough, Trump has taken more direct action to drive a wedge into the NATO alliance. With no understanding of how NATO member contributions are calculated, he complains the U.S. is being taken advantage of. Yes, the U.S, does pay a large majority of the defense costs of all NATO countries. In 2017 that came to 67%. But that amount relates to all U.S. defense costs, or 3.6% of GDP. The NATO goal for each country is 2% of GDP, attained by only five other countries, though most others have pledged to reach that goal by 2024. NATO has another budget to cover common civilian and military costs for which no country’s contributions are in arrears.

Most specifically and potentially most harmful, he’s hinted he might not honor NATO’s Article 5 collective defense clause.

His reckless trade and tariff policies have thrown the global economy into chaos. China is Trump’s principal target for unfair trade. But he attacks America’s closest allies as well for taking advantage of the U.S. in trade.

In all of the above actions, who benefits?

The Ukraine Revolution

In 2014 Ukrainians revolted and deposed their President, Viktor Yanukovych, forcing him to flee to Russia. That same day, the Ukrainian parliament voted 328 – 0 to relieve him of duty. Yanukovych and his supporters in eastern and southern Ukraine considered the vote illegal. He asked for assistance from the Russian Federation, which agreed this was an illegal coup.

In response, Russia invaded, occupied and then annexed the Ukraine’s Crimea, ultimately integrating it in the Russian Federation. Pro-Russian Ukrainians with Russian troop support took control of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Later those regions became the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Russian action in Crimea violated numerous treaties and international law and initiated strong worldwide condemnation. The G8, a group of highly industrialized nations, suspended Russia from membership and, shortly thereafter, introduced sanctions against the country.

The Ukraine Peace Plans

In an attempt to bring peace to the Ukraine, Germany and France put forward different plans: Minsk Accords l (2014) and ll (2015), Steinmeier’s Formula (2015-2016) and the Morel Plan (2015). Without getting into any details, suffice to say that the end result of all plans essentially validates Russia’s aggression. The People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk obtain de facto recognition as separate republics with the prospect of joining the Russian Federation. And Russian troops remain there with their implicit threat to the Ukraine.

Trump Abandons Another Ally

The U.S. never bought into these plans and Congress authorized the sale of lethal defensive weaponry to Ukraine, to defend against further Russian aggression. Trump refused to allow delivery unless the Ukrainian President agreed to investigate Joe Biden, Trump’s political rival. This is now the subject of Trump’s impeachment. But what has received lesser attention is Trump’s supposedly offhand comment to Ukraine’s current, democratically elected President Zelensky, “I really hope that you and President Putin can get together and solve your problem.”

Trump effectively told Zelensky he was on his own and should go make a deal with the aggressor. Ukraine’s submission provides an opportunity for the removal of sanctions on Russia. I should also mention that Trump wants Russia back in the G8. With focus on Trump’s impeachment, is anyone concerned that he has abandoned another ally and actually changed U.S. Ukraine policy? Any question who benefits?

Syria

Last month Trump ordered the withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria allowing the Turks to invade what was previously a safe zone for our Kurdish allies. The Kurds “didn’t help us in the Second World War,” he said initially to justify his betrayal of the Kurds. Then he claimed he was fulfilling a campaign pledge to bring the troops home.

Anyone paying attention knew this was another Trump lie, among 13,435 lies as of October 14th (per the Washington Post). Subsequently he announced that a small number of troops would remain in Syria to protect the oil fields. And we also learned that the number of troops in the Middle East has actually increased since May. So Trump’s campaign pledge of bringing the troops home is not a valid explanation for his perfidy.

In last month’s post I recounted the gains made by other countries as a result of Trump’s actions in Syria. They include Syria, Iran and Russia as well as ISIS. One country, though, emerged with greater strength and is now positioned to call the shots in Syria. Guess who?

Putin’s Dreams Come True

So as we look at Trump’s actions outlined above, we can readily conclude he is doing everything he can to make Putin’s dreams come true. He does not hesitate to criticize allied leaders while embracing autocratic leaders like Putin, Xi Jinking, Kim Jung Un, Mohammed bin Salman, and a host of others. His ravings against allies raise questions concerning his willingness to honor NATO’s Article 5 collective defense clause. His chaotic style of decision-making contrasts sharply with Putin’s decisive management style. Refusing to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman for Adnan Khashoggi’s murder accelerated the U.S. loss of moral leadership. His continual lying and demeaning of others have disgraced the position of President of the United States. He has clearly diminished the United States’ global influence while increasing that of Russia.

Trump’s Motivation

Once again, as in my last post, we conclude that Trump has continually done Russia’s bidding at the expense of the United States and our allies. And once again we are left to wonder at his motivation. Of course he is not a “stable genius,” but he must realize a majority of Americans aren’t all drinking the Kool-Aid. We see what he’s doing, and explanations are limited. Either he believes his power is absolute, and he is not accountable, or he just doesn’t care. Alternatively, he may be so indebted to Russia, that nothing the U.S. Government can do to him is worse than the potential revelations that will destroy him financially and politically.

I believe the answer is both: he considers himself above accountability and is heavily indebted to, and afraid of Russia. Until we can see his tax returns, we’ll never know for sure the extent of Russia’s influence over him. All we know is Putin appears to be calling the shots, and Trump pulls the trigger like a Manchurian Candidate. I suspect Russians provided funding after he stiffed U.S. banks in his casino bankruptcies and U.S. banks were done with him. But I’m fairly confident that self-interest is Trump’s dominant motivation. Hopefully, the truth will ultimately be revealed.

Trump’s Motivation?

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