The Russians have weighed into the row over what President Trump’s National Security Adviser, General Michael Flynn, said about sanctions to Russian ambassador Kislyak during a series of telephone conversations which took place on 29th December 2016 before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
The subject of these telephone conversations is now rapidly becoming a central element in neoliberal demonology. which alleges some sort of sinister connection between Russia and Donald Trump (‘the Siberian candidate’). Supposedly during these conversations General Flynn is supposed to have advised Kislyak that Moscow should show restraint in responding to US President Obama’s latest series of sanctions which were announced on that same day.
Donald Trump’s neoliberal and neocon critics insinuate that it was illegal for Flynn to do this, and that his doing it was all-but treasonous.
The Kremlin for its part has now flatly denied that the subject of sanctions was discussed, echoing earlier claims by General Flynn. Here is what Russian President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov is reported to have said
We have already said there have not been any [such talks about sanctions]. Obviously every ambassador informs the [authorities in Moscow] about all the contacts he has so the information gets to us, but we are not willing to comment on internal discussions being held in Washington
Peskov’s denial is consistent with Moscow’s policy, which is that Russia refuses to discuss sanctions with Western officials.
Whether Flynn might have brought up the subject of the additional sanctions during the call is another matter. If he did then most likely Kislyak will have listened carefully to what Flynn was saying, but would almost certainly have abided by his standing orders, and would have failed to say anything significant in reply.
Putting all this aside, at least to an outsider this episode looks wildly overdone.
There is nothing remotely illegal in an official of an incoming administration holding discussions with an official of a foreign country. It happens all the time, with members of Trump’s team for example meeting with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson before the inauguration, and no-one complaining about it.
Given General Flynn’s future role as President Trump’s National Security Adviser, and President elect Trump’s known wish to forge an alliance with Russia against Jihadi terrorism and against ISIS, Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak – the ambassador of a military superpower and the US’s potential ally in the fight against ISIS – were arguably simply a case of General Flynn doing his job. In early January – before the inauguration – Sean Spicer, President Trump’s spokesman, said the conversations were about preparing the telephone call between Russian President Putin and President Trump. If so then that was a fully legitimate reason for General Flynn to speak to Kislyak.
Even if Flynn did bring up the sanctions issue with Kislyak, his doing so would scarcely have compromised US national security, especially since Flynn is supposed to have counselled the Russians to show restraint.
As for the suggestion that Flynn’s doing so somehow undermined the policy of the Obama administration – which was still at that time the US government – this makes no sense given that at the time Donald Trump himself – the President elect of the United States – was making it publicly clear he didn’t agree with the policy.
The hysteria about the Flynn-Kislyak conversations is not just wildly overdone; it is transparently part of the US intelligence community’s war against President Trump.
The issue of relations with Russia is the central issue of that war, with the US intelligence community pulling out the stops to prevent the detente with Russia that President Trump says he wants.
In the case of the concocted hysteria around the Flynn-Trump conversations, it seems to be intended to prevent President Trump from reversing the sanctions Obama imposed on Russia on 29th December 2016 by insinuating that if he does it will be because of some sinister deal Flynn and Kislyak did with each other.
That is of course absurd. However hysteria and absurdity, together with a heavy dose of paranoia, seems to be the order of the day in Washington at the moment.