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The deal Russia wants from Donald Trump

Any comprehensive deal for a genuine reset of relations between a Donald Trump led US and Russia will have to address the three issues that concern the Russians most. These are (1) NATO expansion; (2) anti ballistic missile defence; and (3) the US’s regime change policy.

Alexander Mercouris

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As Donald Trump edges towards the White House and calls for a deal with Russia, it might help him to assess what sort of deal the Russia would be looking for from him.

There is a vast pall of misunderstanding in the West about this subject in large part because Western coverage of Russia over the last decade has been so intense and distorted that it has distorted the understanding of even the most hardheaded of Western policy makers.

Firstly it is essential to put aside some of the common myths that become encrusted around this subject.

The Russians do not want to re-establish the USSR and nor are they seeking a sphere of influence over the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe.  They do not expect NATO to disappear any time soon, and they do not want the EU to break up.  They have no intention of invading the Baltic States.  At some point they do want the sanctions the West has imposed on them lifted, but as I have written, this is not for them a priority.

One should also put aside some of the more nebulous claims which are commonly made about Russia.

The Russians do not think of themselves as a superpower coequal to the US, and they do not demand that they be treated like one.  There is a huge literature in the West about the offence Obama is supposed to have caused in Russia when he called Russia a “regional power”.  Some people in Russia might have been offended, but it is inconceivable that President Putin was because that is what he has repeatedly said himself.  As The Saker has written, the whole Russian defence posture is based around that concept, with Russia neither having nor aspiring to a global role.

Russian policy towards the US is not constructed around such grandiose and unrealistic schemes or nebulous feelings, which are the product of Western imagination not Russian reality, and which find no confirmation in the statements of Russia’s leaders.  It is based on tough minded calculations of Russian national interest and Russian security.

If one pays attention to what Russian leaders actually say it becomes clear that there are two overriding issues which concern them most, and which lie at the heart of the crisis in Russia’s relations with the West, and a third issue, which for the Russians is of only slightly lesser importance.

The two key issues are NATO expansion into the territory of the former USSR – which has now come to include EU expansion as well, with the Russians coming to see the EU as NATO’s Trojan Horse – and the placement of US anti ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe.

The third issue is the West’s regime change policy, first and foremost as it pertains to Russia, but also as it is applied everywhere else.

Any deal Donald Trump wants to make with Russia has to address Russian concerns about these questions, if it is to work.

Here it should be said clearly that the Russian objection to the extension of NATO into the territory of the former USSR, and the placement of anti ballistic missiles in Eastern Europe, is driven by no other consideration than the Russian belief – which nothing now can change – that these two actions are directed at themselves.  Western protestations that NATO is a source of stability in Europe and does not threaten Russia, and that the anti ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe are aimed not at Russia but at Iran, cut no ice in Moscow, and the sooner this fact is accepted in Western capitals the better.

Moreover the Russians are absolutely right to see NATO expansion and the anti ballistic missile deployments as directed at themselves, because the reality is of course that they are.

Not only does the shrill propaganda campaign about the fictional threat to NATO’s eastern members from Russia show that NATO is still directed at Russia, but the Ukrainian crisis, with a democratically elected government that wanted to maintain ties with Moscow violently and illegally overthrown in order to bring to power a viscerally anti Russian and pro NATO government, confirms as much.

NATO leaders always react furiously whenever a government of a NATO state seems to be edging closer to Moscow.  They should not be surprised if Moscow reacts with equal sensitivity to the far more aggressive Western attempts to overthrow neutral or pro Russian governments in order to install pro Western governments, which can be relied upon to bring their countries into NATO.

On the subject of the anti ballistic missile deployments in Eastern Europe, Russian leaders have expressed their concerns at length, and a careful explanation of Russian concerns has been provided to The Duran by Professor Vladimir Kozin.  I would also refer to the recent masterly study of this issue by Robert Bridge, which shows how US President Obama’s extraordinary duplicity on this issue has all but destroyed trust on arms control between Washington and Moscow.

As to why Russia objects to the US’s regime change policy, Russia would object to it even if it did not directly affect Russia, which of course it does, and even if its application had not been consistently disastrous, which of course it has been.

I explained the reason for Russia’s objection to this policy in a study I did of Russian perspectives of the Syrian crisis, which I wrote back in 2012

The key to understanding Russian policy is to look at what has happened in international relations since the end of the Cold War.  If one does then it becomes clear that a small group of states, namely the United States and Britain but also occasionally France and some other US allies (but significantly not Germany) have appropriated to themselves a licence to overthrow governments of which they disapprove.  They do this through a variety of ways such as by funding and supporting opposition movements and parties (called “democracy promotion”) as happened in Yugoslavia in 2000, by arming rebels as happened in Libya last year and in Syria this year and ultimately by launching military attacks and even invasions of the various states whose governments they want to overthrow.  Examples include Yugoslavia in 1999, Afghanistan in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya and Cote d’Ivoire in 2011…..

Though the right to overthrow governments is now taken for granted by the governments of the United States and of Britain and is even passionately believed in by some of their [citizens] its existence is emphatically rejected by other governments in particular those of Russia and China.  These two countries and many others see in it a threat to the political independence of states including ultimately their own….

Russia and China have overwhelmingly strong reasons for taking this stand. Firstly the right the United States and its allies claim for themselves represents an extraordinary and extremely dangerous departure from international law as this has been applied and understood since the end of the Second World War.  Secondly it privileges a small group of very powerful states over all the others.  Moreover and significantly it is a group from which  Russia and China are excluded.  Thirdly it is a right that is very obviously targeted against Russia and China,  It has not escaped Russia’s and China’s attention even if it has escaped the attention of most people in the west that the governments the western powers target for overthrow are invariably governments that are allies or friends of Russia and China.  Lastly and perhaps most importantly, as two countries which have suffered heavily from western aggression in the last two hundred years Russia and China will never agree to any modification of international law that might allow or legitimise it.

(bold italics added)

As it happens Russia has been directly effected by the West’s regime change policy in that it is itself the constant – indeed primary – target of this policy.  This has taken the form of open and aggressively expressed Western support for members of Russia’s liberal opposition who deny the legitimacy of Russia’s government, and who the Russian authorities see as acting on the West’s behalf, and a relentless campaign of harassment and propaganda directed at the Russian government encompassing everything from the Olympic doping scandal to the sanctions, which is obviously at destabilising and delegitimising it.

Over the course of recent months Western leaders – not just in the US – have acted with hyper sensitivity over (unproven) claims of Russian interference in their countries’ internal affairs.  In the US a huge campaign is underway as a result of unproven claims of Russian interference in the US election.  Across the West – not just in the US – there is a massive campaign to suppress or silence supposed manifestations of Russian interference in the West’s internal affairs, of which the whole “fake news” hysteria forms only a part.

If Western leaders react with such hyper sensitivity to even the suspicion of Russian interference in their internal affairs, they should not be surprised that Russian leaders react with equal sensitivity to the far greater and far better documented evidence of Western interference in their internal affairs and in those of their allies.

Setting out these central Russian concerns shows how a deal between Russia and a Donald Trump administration might be possible.

None of Russia’s concerns on any one of these issues affects Western security or impinges on the US’s national interests.  Donald Trump has called NATO “obsolete” and expressed indifference about the EU’s future.  He is clearly uninterested in expanding either into the territory of the former USSR, so he has no reason to feel that he is making any serious concession by agreeing not to do so.  Similarly Donald Trump has already foresworn the whole policy of regime change.  If so then he is already in agreement with the Russians over this issue too.

The major sticking point will be arms control, with trust badly damaged as a result of Obama’s actions, and the Russians almost certainly insisting on the dismantling of the anti ballistic missile systems in Eastern Europe in return for nuclear weapons cuts.  It may not be a coincidence that it was precisely on the issue of arms control that Trump homed into in his interview with The London Times and Bild-Zeitung.

Securing however an agreement to dismantle the anti ballistic missile systems in the teeth of what is likely to be furious opposition from the Congressional leadership, much of the Republican party, and the powerful US armaments lobby, will however be a titanic challenge.

A complex and difficult negotiation lies ahead.  Even on the assumption Donald Trump succeeds in consolidating his control of the US government, it is far from clear it will succeed.  There is however one overwhelmingly point which argues in its favour: on any objective assessment what Russia wants from Donald Trump it is in the US interest for him to give.

The US loses nothing by agreeing to the things Russia wants because they in no want threaten the US’s security or that of its allies.  On the contrary it has been the pursuit of the grand geopolitical strategies of the neocons, with the policies of NATO expansion, anti ballistic missile deployment and regime that go with them, which have brought the US into an impasse.  It is in the US interest and in the interests of the US’s allies to give up on them.

Donald Trump’s comments shows that he has at least some understanding of this fact. It remains to be seen how great understanding is and whether he will be able to put into practice.

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BREXIT chaos, as May’s cabinet crumbles (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 18.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the various scenarios now facing a crumbling May government, as the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is forcing cabinet members to resign in rapid succession. The weekend ahead is fraught with uncertainty for the UK and its position within, or outside, the European Union.

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If Theresa May’s ill-fated Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is eventually rejected this could trigger a vote of no confidence, snap elections or even a new referendum…

Here are six possible scenarios facing Theresa May and the UK (via The Guardian)

1 Parliament blocks Theresa May’s draft withdrawal agreement and political declarations

May faces an enormous task to win parliamentary approval, given that Labour, the SNP, the DUP and 51 Tories have said they will not vote for it.

If the remaining 27 EU member states sign off the draft agreement on 25 November, the government will have to win over MPs at a crucial vote in early December.

If May loses the vote, she has 21 days to put forward a new plan. If she wins, she is safe for now.

2 May withdraws the current draft agreement

The prime minister could decide that she will not get the draft agreement through parliament and could seek to renegotiate with the EU.

This would anger Tory backbenchers and Brussels and would be seen as a humiliation for her government. It might spark a leadership contest too.

3 Extend article 50

May could ask the European council to extend article 50, giving her more time to come up with a deal that could be passed by parliament – at present, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.

Such a request would not necessarily be granted. Some EU governments are under pressure from populist parties to get the UK out of the EU as soon as possible.

4 Conservative MPs trigger a vote of no confidence in the prime minister

If Conservative MPs believe May is no longer fit for office, they could trigger a no-confidence vote.

Members of the European Research Group claim that Graham Brady, the chair of the powerful 1922 Committee, will receive the necessary 48 letters this week.

A vote could be held as soon as early next week. All Tory MPs would be asked to vote for or against their leader. If May wins, she cannot be challenged for at least 12 months. If she loses, there would be a leadership contest to decide who will become prime minister.

5 General election – three possible routes

If May fails to get support for the current deal, she could call a snap general election.

She would table a parliamentary vote for a general election that would have to be passed by two thirds of MPs. She would then set an election date, which could be by the end of January.

This is an unlikely option. May’s political credibility was severely damaged when she called a snap election in 2017, leading to the loss of the Conservative party’s majority.

Alternatively, a general election could be called if a simple majority of MPs vote that they have no confidence in the government. Seven Tory MPs, or all of the DUP MPs, would have to turn against the government for it to lose the vote, triggering a two-week cooling-off period. May would remain in office while MPs negotiate a new government.

Another route to a general election would be for the government to repeal or amend the Fixed-term Parliaments Act which creates a five-year period between general elections. A new act would have to be passed through both the Commons and the Lords – an unlikely scenario.

6 Second referendum

May could decide it is impossible to find a possible draft deal that will be approved by parliament and go for a people’s vote.

The meaningful vote could be amended to allow MPs to vote on whether the country holds a second referendum. It is unclear whether enough MPs would back a second referendum and May has ruled it out.

 

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Brexit Withdrawal Agreement may lead to Theresa May’s downfall (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 151.

Alex Christoforou

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The Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has been published and as many predicted, including Nigel Farage, the document is leading to the collapse of Theresa May’s government.

During an interview with iTV’s Piers Morgan, remain’s Alistair Campell and leave’s Nigel Farage, were calling May’s Brexit deal a complete disaster.

Via iTV

Alastair Campbell: “This doesn’t do remotely what was offered…what is the point”

“Parliament is at an impasse”

“We have to go back to the people” …”remain has to be on the ballot paper”

Nigel Farage:

“This is the worst deal in history. We are giving away in excess of 40B pounds in return for precisely nothing. Trapped still inside the European Union’s rulebook.

“Nothing has been achieved.”

“In any negotiation in life…the other side need to know that you are serious about walking away.”

“What monsieur Barnier knew from day one, is that at no point did Theresa May intend to walk away.”

“Fundamental matter of trust to the electors of our country and those who govern us.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, and why the deal is a full on victory for the European Union and a document of subjugation for the United Kingdom.

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Coming in at 585 pages, the draft agreement will be closely scrutinized over the coming days but here are some of the highlights as outlined by Zerohedge

  • UK and EU to use the best endeavours to supersede Ireland protocol by 2020
  • UK can request extension of the transition period any time before July 1st, 2020
  • EU, UK See Level-Playing Field Measures in Future Relationship
  • Transition period may be extended once up to date yet to be specified in the text
  • EU and UK shall establish single customs territory and Northern Ireland is in same customs territory as Great Britain

The future relationship document is less than seven pages long. It says the U.K. and EU are seeking a free-trade area with cooperation on customs and rules: “Comprehensive arrangements creating a free trade area combining deep regulatory and customs cooperation, underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field for open and fair competition.”

The wording might raise concerns among Brexiters who don’t want regulatory cooperation and the measures on fair competition could amount to shackling the U.K. to EU rules.

As Bloomberg’s Emma Ross-Thomas writes, “There’s a clear sense in the documents that we’re heading for a customs union in all but name. Firstly via the Irish backstop, and then via the future relationship.”

Separately, a government summary of the draft agreement suggests role for parliament in deciding whether to extend the transition or to move in to the backstop.

But perhaps most importantly, regarding the controversial issue of the Irish border, the future relationship document says both sides aim to replace the so-called backstop – the thorniest issue in the negotiations – with a “subsequent agreement that establishes alternative arrangements for ensuring the absence of a hard border on the island of Ireland on a permanent footing.”

On this topic, recall that the U.K.’s fear was of being locked into the backstop arrangement indefinitely in the absence of a broader trade deal. The draft agreement includes a review process to try to give reassurance that the backstop would never be needed. Basically, the U.K. could choose to seek an extension to the transition period – where rules stay the same as they are currently – or opt to trigger the backstop conditions. In fact, as Bloomberg notes, the word “backstop,” which has been a sticking point over the Irish border for weeks, is mentioned only once in the text.

As Bloomberg further adds, the withdrawal agreement makes clear that the U.K. will remain in a single customs area with the EU until there’s a solution reached on the Irish border. It’s what Brexiteers hate, because it makes it more difficult for the U.K. to sign its own free-trade deals, which they regard as a key prize of Brexit.

Predictably, EU Commission President Juncker said decisive progress has been made in negotiations.

Meanwhile, as analysts comb over the documents, Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group, has already written to Conservative lawmakers urging them to vote against the deal. He says:

  • May is handing over money for “little or nothing in return”
  • The agreement treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the U.K.
  • It will “lock” the U.K. into a customs union with the EU
  • It breaks the Tory election manifesto of 2017

The full document…

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4 resignations and counting: May’s government ‘falling apart before our eyes’ over Brexit deal

The beginning of the end for Theresa May’s government.

The Duran

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Via RT


Four high profile resignations have followed on the heels of Theresa May’s announcement that her cabinet has settled on a Brexit deal, with Labour claiming that the Conservative government is at risk of completely dissolving.

Shailesh Vara, the Minister of State at the Northern Ireland Office was the first top official to resign after the prime minister announced that her cabinet had reached a draft EU withdrawal agreement.

An hour after his announcement, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab – the man charged with negotiating and finalizing the deal – said he was stepping down, stating that the Brexit deal in its current form suffers from deep flaws. Esther McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, submitted her letter of resignation shortly afterwards. More resignations have followed.

Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Jon Trickett, predicted that this is the beginning of the end for May’s government.

The government is falling apart before our eyes as for a second time the Brexit secretary has refused to back the prime minister’s Brexit plan. This so-called deal has unraveled before our eyes

Shailesh Vara: UK to be stuck in ‘a half-way house with no time limit’

Kicking off Thursday’s string of resignations, Vara didn’t mince words when describing his reservations about the cabinet-stamped Brexit deal.

Theresa May’s EU withdrawal agreement leaves the UK in a “halfway house with no time limit on when we will finally become a sovereign nation,” his letter of resignation states. Vara went on to warn that the draft agreement leaves a number of critical issues undecided, predicting that it “will take years to conclude” a trade deal with the bloc.

“We will be locked in a customs arrangement indefinitely, bound by rules determined by the EU over which we have no say,” he added.

Dominic Raab: Deal can’t be ‘reconciled’ with promises made to public

Announcing his resignation on Thursday morning, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab tweeted: “I cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU.”

Raab claimed that the deal in its current form gives the EU veto power over the UK’s ability to annul the deal.

No democratic nation has ever signed up to be bound by such an extensive regime.

Former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith said that Raab’s resignation as Brexit secretary is “devastating” for May.

“It sounds like he has been ignored,” he told the BBC.

Raab’s departure will undoubtedly encourage other Brexit supporters to question the deal, political commentators have observed.

Esther McVey: Deal ‘does not honor’ Brexit referendum

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey didn’t hold back when issuing her own letter of resignation. According to McVey, the deal “does not honour” the result of the Brexit referendum, in which a majority of Brits voted to leave the European Union.

Suella Braverman: ‘Unable to sincerely support’ deal

Suella Braverman, a junior minister in Britain’s Brexit ministry, issued her resignation on Thursday, saying that she couldn’t stomach the deal.

“I now find myself unable to sincerely support the deal agreed yesterday by cabinet,” she said in a letter posted on Twitter.

Suella Braverman, MP Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Exiting the EU © Global Look Press / Joel Goodman
Braverman said that the deal is not what the British people voted for, and threatened to tear the country apart.

“It prevents an unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU,” she said.

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