July 1, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7545

Analyst Bovt: Trump And Putin Can Get Things Moving

July 1, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7545

In an article for the Russian media outlet, titled "Daring to Break The Pattern", Russian analyst Georgy Bovt speculated on the possible topics that Trump and Putin will address in Helsinki. Bovt is cautiously optimistic about the summit. Trump has shown that he can take on the establishment and has rallied the Republican Party around him due to both partisan enthusiasm as well as the sober realization of Trump's critics that they are stuck with him for the next three years.

While expectations remain low, even a partial success for example in reopening some consulates and restraining rogue hackers can be marketed in both the U.S. and Russia as an achievement. It is worth recalling that the Reagan-Gorbachev breakthroughs started the same way with minor achievements and vague positive generalities.

Below are excerpts from Bovt's article:[1]

Georgy Bovt (Source.

'It Looks Like An Idea Has Lodged Itself In Trump's Head: If The Meeting With The 'Terrible Kim' Was Such A Success, One Could Meet With Putin Now'

"… Only a couple of months ago it seemed impossible to the Russian and especially to the American side [a meeting between the two sides], even after Trump called Putin to congratulate him on his re-election and invite him to Washington for a visit.

"Moscow's reasoning was approximately this: Trump cannot buck the establishment on this issue, and the establishment is anti-Russian through and through; there is nothing to discuss, the differences are too irreconcilable; after the tough sanctions introduced in early April, the incumbent U.S. president has become absolutely 'hopeless' from the perspective of building bilateral relations; there can definitely be no progress until the mid-term Congressional elections (in November), because this is too sensitive an issue in America's domestic policy; special counsel Mueller's investigation of the 'Russian interference in the election' is an insurmountable obstacle to building relations, and one should not expect any changes until it is finished. All these points are still valid. But something has changed. This 'something', or rather somebody, is called Kim Jong-un. Everything considered, it looks like an idea has lodged itself in Trump's head: if the meeting with the 'terrible Kim' was such a success, one could meet with Putin now.

"… Because for the current American president, politics, and especially foreign policy, is also somewhat of a show. And the show, as everybody knows, must go on.

"As for such weighty objections against meeting the Russian leader as Mueller's probe and the mid-term elections (the Democrats will definitely gargle the Russian theme in public during the election campaign), the current inhabitant of the White House is used to breaking patterns. This [tendency] has often brought him success. And yet another success in foreign politics, which will be effectively 'sold' to Trump's voters, will outweigh all the hypothetical calculations of Washington's elitist 'swamp'.

"In fact, the majority of the establishment was against the summit with the North Korean dictator, or in favor of it only on condition of Kim's advance capitulation. But Trump, after listening to such advice, did as he saw fit. As for the former state secretary Tillerson, his opposition to the preparations to a meeting with Kim cost him his job. It was taken up by somebody who did what the Boss wanted: it was the head of the CIA (now Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo who played the decisive role in preparing the summit (at the time when it was being sabotaged by the state department).

"The evolution of John Bolton's position on the issue is very noteworthy. He used to take a 'hawkish position' with regard to the North Korean question. When he served in the George W. Bush administration, he did everything in his power to torpedo the negotiations with Pyongyang. A month before his appointment as Trump's national security advisor, he wrote an article in The Wall Street Journal called 'The Legal Bases for a First Strike on North Korea. Nevertheless, he had to 'change his shoes in the air', go with the president to Singapore and shake Kim Jong-un's hand there…

"In American politics, this has long been called the 'Nixon in China' effect: Nixon's unquestionable anti-Communist views stymied all objections within the US to his visit to China in 1972, which triggered the restoration of relations with this country.

"Trump acts in the same pushy manner, often rife with improvisations, which was not seen in Washington in Obama's time, in other spheres as well, not just the Korean issue. It started with the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement at the start of his term (that was just the tip of the iceberg, as it turned out) and concluded with the outbreak of trade wars with the EU, the NAFTA partners – Canada and Mexico – and China. The last meeting of the G7 in Canada ended in a scandal: the US president refused to sign a joint declaration, and his relations with the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau deteriorated to the level of personal insults.

"But Trump's voters enjoy seeing their leader give the finger to the entire world. The approval rating for the actions of the 'White House parvenu' has stopped falling. It has even grown a little, although it is still well behind the average rating for the American presidents after the Second World War.

"Moreover, the Republicans, having finally realized that there is no escaping this submarine for at least the next three years, have begun to rally around this 'upstart' whom they do not despise. This is primarily because he exhibits amazing efficiency in achieving his goals – item by item, like a rhino, stubbornly implementing his electoral program, including the economy and domestic policy. This coalescing can potentially (even though it is too early to speak about it now) soften the uncompromising anti-Russian attitude of at least some of the Republicans in the future. If not in word, then in action: they can turn a blind eye to a partial easing of sanctions or, at least, can stop demanding their interminable toughening…

"And now, giving in to the president's pressure, his aides, including his national security advisor John Bolton, secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and the ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman (who is rather close to Trump and is actively involved in the preparation of a possible summit), have 'reconciled themselves' to the thought of Trump intending to meet with Putin. As somebody from the administration has admitted, 'nothing can stop him, and if he decided he needs a meeting with Putin, he will get a meeting with Putin'. After all, they have already spoken on the telephone eight times, and had two short meetings during international events. By the way, Barak Obama spoke with Putin on the phone 9 times during the last two years of his term.

Russia Has Dialed Down Its Anti-American Rhetoric; For Russia, The Most Important Issue Of Strategic Security Is Still The American Global ABM System

"Moscow and Washington have begun to exchange 'signals'. If you have not noticed yet, Russia has noticeably dialed down its anti-American rhetoric, in comparison to not so distant times.

"… Moscow sent several covert signals about the desirability of a summit. This was mentioned several times on behalf of the Kremlin. If one is to believe leaks to the press, during his visit to Austria Putin probed for the possibility of organizing such a meeting in Vienna and asked the Austrian Chancellor to be a mediator in its organization. Trump, during the G7 summit, publicly raised the issue of reinstating Russia and returning to the format of G8 and made a statement on Crimea that seemed ambiguous in light of the official American stance.

"In fact, both his statements became a complete surprise even to his closest advisors, as well as his 'bewildered question' during the joint dinner with his G7 partners: he found it puzzling that NATO had always supported Ukraine against Russia, although the former was 'one of the most corrupt countries in the world' (it's been a long time since anybody at such a top level in the US spoke about Ukraine in this way). Of course, this statement does not mean that there is a reassessment of the official US policy in this sphere. Those are only 'signals', nuances. But they do exist. And indeed, why dedicate a quarter of the time during the G7 summit to talks about Russia when one can invite Putin to join the discussion – asks Trump, quite sensibly, on board Air Force One when talking to a journalist from his press pool. Actually, common sense against the establishment's inventive calculations is often his strong point.

"What could become the subject matter of the Putin-Trump summit? How possible is its even partial success, despite the appalling character of the current relations? Strange as it may seem, this is where the 'low expectations' effect may work. As it did with North Korea. If the presidents manage to agree at least on something, this can be presented (and will be – by both sides) as a great success.

"It is hardly worth waiting for a breakthrough on the issue of limiting the arms race. This is too complex a subject and requires careful consideration. The US has long been dissatisfied with the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which it accuses Moscow of breaching. The accusation is just an excuse. The US is mostly dissatisfied with the prospect of losing to China in Asia in this kind of armaments. But Moscow, too, thinks today that signing this treaty was Gorbachev's mistake. In order to speak about the future of this treaty, one must look at the entire 'package' of relations between Russia and NATO. But one can begin the negotiations, which is definitely a better option than sudden unilateral actions. The same is true about the Treaty on Strategic Offensive Arms, which expires in a couple of years. Trump has already mentioned his dissatisfaction with it.

"For Russia, the most important issue of strategic security is still the American global ABM system. All the previous attempts to slow it down, let alone dismantle it, proved to be unsuccessful. One can close the door on these attempts as futile. The US will not give up its idea of a 'security umbrella' – from Russia, North Korea, or Iran – under any president, due to its 'insular' mentality.

"It is much more practical, in the mid-term perspective, to wager on creating missile penetration aids, which is, in fact, being done now. This will maintain the threat of 'retaliatory strike', which the world has rested on since the creation of nuclear arms. Without achieving a breakthrough in any part of the disarmament issue, Trump and Putin could make a general statement on the subject – about their joint commitment to nuclear disarmament in the long term. It is with statements like these, without any concrete agreements for two summits in a row, that Gorbachev and Reagan began to bury the Cold War back in their day.

"The subject of Crimea is a dead end as well, despite Trump's ambiguous statements to the effect that it is Russian. One can say anything in private, but the US will not change its stance publicly. And Trump himself, when he proposed to restore Russia to G8, connected this possibility to the return of Crimea to Ukraine. Putin will have to try explaining to him once again that it is impossible.

"What is possible, however, is some sort of change, however small, on the situation in the Donbass; in particular, there are plans to deploy international peacekeepers there. The question is who those peacekeepers will be, and what their mandate will be. Taking into consideration the dead end of the Minsk process, it is hardly possible that the presidents will make a breakthrough here. But some changes of tone are possible.

"It is quite possible that there will be a public statement about the renewal of contacts of the military in Syria and the 'confidence-building measures' in this country. After all, why is it impossible to do with Trump what has been agreed upon as a compromise with Erdogan? Especially since contacts of this kind (including on chiefs-of-staff level) never really ceased, despite all the public demarches.

"Finally, there are at least several subjects where a Putin-Trump summit can achieve notable and demonstrative success. Moreover, without any special effort or serious concessions on either side.

"Firstly, it is the return to normal work of diplomatic missions, including the reinstatement of at least one additional consulate in each country, which were closed last year. The Americans, whose personnel in Russia are overloaded with work, are interested in this no less than we are. The normal work of embassies and consulates is the minimal foundation on which further contacts and negotiations can be built. The more numerous the communication channels, the better. In addition, such steps will be easily 'sold' not only in Russia, but in the US as well, as a great and obvious success. “Contacts between people” and all that.

"Secondly (and more importantly), Putin and Trump could, if not immediately sign a comprehensive agreement, then at least launch negotiations (and set their tone) on an 'internet non-aggression pact', including Moscow's guarantees that there will be no more independent improvisations by 'Chef 'Prigozhin's trolls' from Olgino', who are allegedly not connected to the government. It is this issue (of the omnipresent 'Russian hackers') that is really troubling the majority of the American body politic. In the past, there was a similar hysterical fit concerning China (which was restrained by virtue of the huge volume of mutual trade). But an agreement with Xi Jinping, signed at the very end of Obama's term, took this issue off the public table.

"Developing measures to restrict the 'internet arms race' is the area where the two sides can fairly quickly highlight a successful result that Trump will subsequently be able to show Congress when discussing prospects for softening anti-Russian sanctions…"


[1], June 18, 2018)

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