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Sending Messages to Russia

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Remember the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, hosted by Russia?  The planning and organization were excellent and the games were an outstanding success in every way.  The western media looked frantically for something to criticize and there was indeed one slight hiccup — at the opening, one of the decorative Olympic Rings in the enormous lit-up sign malfunctioned. British and American television stations loved it.  They played the fizzle-pop segment time after time after time, hoping that there would be something else equally disastrous for which evil, incompetent yet curiously threatening Russia could be hung out to dry.

It didn’t happen, of course, and the Russians made fun of the episode at the end of the games, but the attitude of the west was vehemently Cold War and it set the stage for the next few years.

To the anguish and annoyance of much of the Western media, the recent meeting in Hamburg between Presidents Trump and Putin was a success.  On the Sunday following their discussions on Friday July 7 there was not one single positive comment piece or headline in any of the usual anti-Russia chorus line — including the Washington Post, London’s  Sunday Telegraph, the New York Times, London’s Mail on Sunday, and the Boston Sunday Globe (to name but a few).

Saturday’s front pages had also been devoid of anything positive, but given the small amount of information that was available immediately after the meeting, this is not surprising, although the Globe managed a front-page headline that “Trump Confronts Putin on Election Meddling” which was a good try.  What was predictable but nonetheless deplorable was the totally negative attitude.  Western media people do not think it a good thing that the leaders of two large and important nations spoke amicably with each other.

What they really wanted, of course, was for there to be a mighty explosion between Trump and Putin, followed by a snarling walk-out by one or other or preferably both. My goodness, just think of the photo-opportunities, the gleeful headlines, the sententious “I told you so” from the galaxy of talent poised in the wings with venom-tipped keyboard fingers.

Don’t get me wrong :  I have no time for Trump whom I judge to be an arrogant, erratic, mendacious, vulgar oaf who would not be permitted to enter my house to clean the lavatory. But he is the President of the United States and thus a most important person. What he says should be regarded as official US policy — or perhaps not, because on July 8 he declared that “Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia” yet next day his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told the media that in spite of what her President says about Russia, “It doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia.”

Just what is America’s official policy?  It is apparent that the US and British media are firmly opposed to Russia, no matter what it does, but surely we should expect an indication of concerted, practical strategy from the highest strata of government?

When we have the US President saying he wants to “work constructively” with Russia and a minion publicly declaring that Russia can’t be trusted, there is obviously a critical problem.

In days gone by, that sort of insubordinate deviance would have been met with instant dismissal.  You can’t have a country sending conflicting diplomatic (or undiplomatic) messages to another country with which it has sensitive relations — or, for that matter, to a country which considers it has most amicable relations with Washington, of which a case in point is Australia.

For years Australia has been trying to ingratiate itself with the US by supporting it in its stance of military confrontation against China (a vital Australian trade partner), by, amongst other things, letting the Pentagon establish yet another vast US military base and joining in saber-rattling military exercises.  But in February the US President insulted the Australian Prime Minister by abruptly ending a telephone call with him.  Sure, the Australian PM seemed to take it lightly when he mimicked Trump during an informal social event, but the damage to US-Australia relations had been done, and the American President has caused many Australians to distrust his country, which is quite an achievement.  The messages were mixed, but the damage could have been rectified by a simple apology from Trump for his offensive treatment of Australia’s prime minister.  But it is difficult to imagine Trump making a sincere apology for any of his actions or statements.

Which brings us back to his policy towards Russia, which is in self-contradictory tatters.

According to MSN news, Trump tweeted on Sunday July 9 that “Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin . . .”  But according to the Washington Post (which is not the most dependable source in reporting anything to do with Russia, but in this case seems to be accurate) “Immediately after Friday’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the president told his Russian counterpart that members of Congress are pushing for additional sanctions . . .”

No foreign service, no government, no country, can operate effectively in international affairs when there are contradictory statements at such levels about matters of enormous importance. Nobody knows where they stand, and Trump’s tweet fandangos serve only to further complicate US-Russia relations about which there are increasingly grave doubts.  The rabid anti-Russia diatribes in the US Senate have made it clear that no matter what Trump might try to do in order to establish cordial relations, both US political parties are inflexible in their determination that no peaceful progress will be permitted.

In order to advance the cause of confrontation, Washington’s politicians feed the media with meaty nuggets of condemnation.  Western Intelligence agencies, which work closely with the staffs of the Washington Post and the New York Times (and, in the UK, with the Daily Telegraph), do their bit in the disinformation process by publishing material based on leaks from “anonymous sources” who provide unverifiable yet ostensibly authoritative snippets of weighty garbage.

There is a major split in government in Washington, with President Trump — of all people — apparently intent on seeking balanced rapprochement with Russia, while the political Establishment and the Pentagon, backed to the hilt by the Fourth Estate, are relentlessly intent on a malevolent campaign of insult, innuendo and increasing military deployment close to Russia’s borders in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.

President Trump said “We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia and the United States and for everybody concerned” which is a positive approach to bilateral relations, echoed by President Putin’s “I’m very glad to be able to meet you personally, and I hope that, as you have said, our meetings will yield positive results.”

Russia’s Foreign Secretary, Sergei Lavrov, told the media the “My feeling is that it’s been confirmed that the presidents, both the Russian and the American, are driven above all by the countries’ national interests and that they understand these interests primarily as looking for mutually beneficial agreements and not trying to act out some confrontation scenarios, not trying to create problems out of nothing.”

You couldn’t have asked for a more positive and constructive approach by both nations, and the talks would indeed have “yielded positive results” had not the entire clique in Washington made it clear that no such thing would be permitted.

The United States is sending mixed messages to Russia, but they are equally clear: on one hand there is desire for mutually beneficial rapprochement and on the other there is determination to intensify military and economic confrontation.  If these conflicts continue, there will be confusion.  If the Washington Warriors succeed in their campaign of malevolent hostility there will be war.

The arteries of diplomatic decency and mutually beneficial compromise are being blocked by clots.

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Brian Cloughley writes about foreign policy and military affairs. He lives in Voutenay sur Cure, France.

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