By Laura Valkovic

Ever since Trump took office, the narrative that he is in league with Putin has distracted from the reality of U.S.-Russian relations. The president’s opponents seem convinced that the he is a puppet of Vladimir Putin, thanks to unsubstantiated accusations and an investigation that has continued for over a year without presenting evidence against him or a single U.S. citizen.

This dog and pony show, as well as Trump and Putin’s ostensibly friendly rapport, as seen at their July summit in Helsinki, have successfully framed the U.S. president as a Russian flunky. But this story couldn’t be further from reality. By examining facts and events, it’s easy to see that Trump has been increasingly hostile toward America’s historical rival.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

During the Cold War, the U.S.- Soviet conflict was one based in ideology. It was about capitalism versus communism, and the outcome would determine – at least for a few decades – which model would reign supreme across the globe. With that divide gone and Russia now following a capitalist path, one might wonder what these two superpowers have left to fight about. Nevertheless, it seems forces on both sides are insistent on conflict – and any excuse will do.

The Trump Administration has repeatedly moved against Russia and its allies, with round after round of sanctions and harsh condemnations that have worsened relations, while it seems U.S. allies can get away with murder without a slap on the wrist.

Friends and Enemies

No example highlights the international game of favorites played by the Trump administration better than the recent death of reporter Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly at the hands of Saudi Arabia. Trump was reluctant to assign blame to the Saudis, a rich and powerful ally. This pragmatic approach is understandable – even laudable if it were really a matter of “innocent until proven guilty.” But is it?  This is the same administration that launched two bomb attacks on Syria’s Assad regime (a Russian ally and military partner) in response to allegations of chemical weapons use – without obtaining any evidence that Assad was actually to blame.

A similar tack was taken against Russia in response to the March Novichok poisonings that took place in Britain. Trump was satisfied to back up the U.K.’s claim that the Kremlin was responsible, despite the absence of proof. Not only did Trump publicly blame Russia, but his administration also enforced sanctions as a direct result of the unsubstantiated claims.

The Russian president has certainly noticed the double standard, commenting at a meeting in Sochi, “There’s no proof in regards to Russia [re. Novichok poisoning], but steps are taken. Here, people say that a murder happened in Istanbul, but no steps are taken. People need to figure out a single approach to these kinds of problems.”

Nuclear Relations

John Bolton, the neo-con who President Trump assigned as National Security Advisor, recently announced that the U.S. would be pulling out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) that was struck with the Soviet Union in 1987 to curtail a nuclear arms race between the two nations. Allegations have persisted for years that Russia has violated the agreement, while Russia makes the counterclaim that the U.S. has broken the rules.

With NATO knocking on Russia’s door, it’s likely to accelerate fast.

“It is the American position that Russia is in violation,” Bolton said to reporters. “Russia’s position is that they aren’t. So one has to ask how to ask the Russians to come back into compliance with something they don’t think they’re violating.”

Regardless of who has or hasn’t violated the treaty, ditching it all together will free up both Russia and the U.S. to invest in nuclear arsenals that seems sure to heighten the current enmity into a renewed arms race. With NATO knocking on Russia’s door, it’s likely to accelerate fast.

NATO

NATO has repeatedly poked the Russian bear and if President Trump gets his way and millions more dollars are pumped into the organization, those pokes are likely to turn into punches.

Recently, NATO launched its largest war games since the Cold war, right in Russia’s front yard, in northern Europe and the Arctic. The envisioned scenario, called Trident Juncture, is of an attack on Norway by a “fictional near-peer adversary on the north-eastern flank of the Alliance.” Hmm, who could that possibly be?

The NATO description of the event stresses a “renewed commitment to the North,” and in fact, it couldn’t have made it clearer that the games have been designed to simulate a conflict with Russia:

The northern flank of the Alliance was once a key concern for Cold War planners, but, until recently, it has seen little NATO attention in the post-Cold War era … Belligerent and threatening Russian messaging to NATO Allies, partners and prospective members means that the potential threat of conflict cannot be overlooked.

With President Trump consistently pushing for a better funded NATO with greater European contributions, this is where the money would go – particularly since the European Union (made up largely of NATO allies) has been pursuing its own anti-Russian hegemonic agenda in the region. The U.S. military has also been moving additional soldiers into Europe, including positions in Norway, Poland, and Romania.

Russia, too, is preparing for a military clash, as confirmed by Andrey Belousov, the deputy director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Department of Nonproliferation and Arms Control. Belousov posited that Russian preparations are in response to U.S. aggression, saying, “Russia is preparing ‘for war,’ while the US is preparing ‘war.’” Speaking at the UN, he said:

 “At a recent meeting, the US stated that Russia is preparing for war. Yes, Russia is preparing for war, I can confirm it … We are preparing to defend our homeland, our territorial integrity, our principles, our values, our people …

Why else would the United States pull out of the [INF] Treaty, increase their nuclear potential, adopt a new nuclear doctrine that lowers the threshold for nuclear weapons use – that’s the question for us all.”

Russia held its own military exercises in September – called the Vostok Exercises – with Chinese participation for the first time. And now it appears they are willing to push matters further, having announced that they will be testing live missiles within the Trident Juncture zone, where NATO personnel will be conducting exercises.

John Bolton

Beyond the Veil

A vast section of the American population has been fooled into believing that Donald Trump is a covert Russian agent. Satisfied to accept the flimsy lie sold to them by an unaccountable media, they have yet to notice that, under Trump, the U.S. has become an aggressor in a revitalizing rivalry with Russia.

How will this all end? Perhaps a likely outcome is encapsulated in an anecdote provided by the recent meeting between Vladimir Putin and John Bolton. Putin, referring to the United States Seal that displays an eagle holding 13 arrows in one claw and an olive branch with 13 olives in its other claw, jokingly asked, “The question is: Did your eagle already eat all the olives and only the arrows are left?”

“Hopefully I’ll have some answers for you,” Bolton replied. “But I didn’t bring any more olives.”

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