Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

On 05 Feb 17, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, President Donald Trump defended a softer stance on Russia. The President’s remarks drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

Does the US stand to gain from increased Russian engagement? 

On 05 Feb 17, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, President Donald Trump defended a softer stance on Russia. The President’s remarks drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.

Throughout the Presidential campaign, Donald Trump refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying better relations with Kremlin, would be in US national interest. Democrats allege that Russia conducted a hack-and-reveal campaign, aimed at swinging the US election in Donald Trump’s favor. Prominent Republicans, including Senate leader Mitch McConnell have called on Trump to distance himself from Putin, with little effect.

Why are the Democrats so Anti-Russian?

The governing body of the US Democratic Party is the Democratic National Convention (DNC). On 22 July 16, a collection of e-mails from the DNC server were stolen and published on WikiLeaks. The leaks prompted the resignation of the DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and three other functionaries. On the day of their resignation DNC issued a formal apology to Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party, for the ‘inexcusable’ remarks made in the published e-mails.

From March 2015, Hillary Clinton was under FBI investigation for violating security protocols and using a private e-mail server, when she was Secretary of State. Between May and July 2016, the investigation concluded that Hillary Clinton had been extremely careless in handling her e-mail system but recommended no charges be framed against her. However, in July 2016 the State Department announced that in the light of newly released e-mails, the case against her was being re-opened. Hillary Clinton and many Democrat Party members remain convinced that she was a victim of a Russia-sponsored malicious campaign that swung the election campaign away from her and made Donald Trump the surprise winner.

US Intelligence agencies have also stated publicly that they believe Russia did attempt to influence the election, in Donald Trump’s favor. However, no evidence of the Russian hand was presented in the public domain and the statement was made before the new President took office.

Why is Russia Facing Economic Sanctions on Ukraine?

Sevastopol is a port city, on the Black Sea and located in the South-East corner of the Crimean Peninsula. Sevastopol is Russia’s main naval base on the Black Sea, since the Crimean War of 1854.

After the 2nd World War, the former USSR and one of the victors of the war, made Sevastopol a special city, within the Republic. In 1954, the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed over Sevastopol, together with the rest of Crimea, to Ukraine then a part of the USSR. However, the key-military base at Sevastopol continued to be run from the Defence Ministry at Moscow.

The situation underwent a dramatic change in the 1990s, when Ukraine became an Independent state and took Sevastopol and Crimea, within its boundaries. In 1997, Russia & Ukraine signed the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership. In exchange for Russia recognizing Sevastopol’s Ukrainian status, the latter granted Russia the right to retain the Sevastopol Naval Base and keep the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea for 20 years and further extendable. It was assumed that the treaty would be extended, unless one of the parties decided to terminate the agreement. In 2010, a second agreement extended the agreement to 2042, with Russia paying Ukraine an annual lease of US$ 98 million per year.

Russia was forced to bear this cost because Russia’s own Black Sea ports, are underdeveloped. The best being Novorossiysk, which is neither deep enough nor has adequate infrastructure. From the Russian point of view, maintain the fleet in the Black Sea is an important strategic task; protecting the south of Russia and potential enemy aircraft carriers, from entering the Black Sea.

In 2014, during a period of political crisis in Ukraine, Russia annexed Crimea. The annexation followed a disputed referendum in which Russian-predominant Crimean’s voted to join the Russian Federation. Ukraine is understandably hurt by Russia’s annexation of Crimea but soon thereafter violence broke out in the Russian-dominated provinces of Eastern Ukraine, notably Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine suspects Russian support to rebels in Eastern Ukraine and violence continues to this day.

Russia’s actions prompted many governments to apply sanctions on individuals, businesses and officials from Russia. The sanctions were approved by the EU and the US. Russia reciprocated with similar sanctions and a total ban on food imports, from EU, US, Norway, Canada and Australia. The mutually damaging sanctions lead to the collapse of the Ruble and economic damage to EU countries as well; estimated at US$ 100 billion. On 11 Feb 2015, Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany signed the Minsk-2 Agreement, which includes a slew of measures to return normalcy to Ukraine.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly indicated that he would be willing to roll back (some) sanctions, as an incentive for more cooperative behavior form Russia.

What is the Relevance of NATO?

The original purpose of NATO was to unify and strengthen Western Allies military response, to possible invasion of Western Europe, by the erstwhile Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries. After the collapse of the USSR (in 1991) that purpose no longer remains. In the last 26 years, NATO has not successfully adapted to new threats like global terrorism. Even NATO deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps fail to justify the core purpose of the giant organization.

According to NATO By Laws, members are supposed to contribute 2% of their GDP on defence. However, only five (US, UK, Poland, Estonia and Greece) of the 28 members meet the target. With member nations, reluctant to make contributions, in 2016, USA spent 72% of NATO members total defence expenditure.

Assessment

The reluctance of member nations, to make contributions towards NATO’s budget is perhaps a reflection of NATO’s failure, to adapt to new realities. In order to remain relevant, NATO needs to redefine itself for 4th Generation Warfare and Counter-Terrorism.

 Unlike during the Cold War, Russia no longer poses a military threat to the USA. However, Russia remains a credible military power in Asia, with strategic reach to influence outcomes in the Middle East, Central Asia and even South Asia.

 If Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are able to forge an international understanding, it is only real-politics and a reflection of changed times. After all little can be lost by leaving  the ghosts of the past and working towards common interests.

 

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