Donald Trump’s most famous tweet can be interpreted many ways. When President Vladimir Putin of Russia announced on December 30 that he would not retaliate against President Obama expelling Russian diplomats and imposing new sanctions, he knew exactly what he was doing. Putin has been listening and watching Trump throughout the long campaign. He heard Trump question NATO during interviews, saying all members must live up to their debts. He heard Trump denigrate the United Nations, calling it “a club”. Putin’s phone call right after the election was one of warm congratulations. Trump repeats endlessly, “Putin said “I was brilliant” — the Russian word that actually translates into “colorful or flashy”.
It is a sure thing that Putin read the transcript of The New York Times interview with Trump in March. When Trump was questioned about the crippling economic sanctions levied by major nations against Russia, he said that he doubted that anyone other than Obama saw much use in them. Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has also been critical of the sanctions since they stymied Exxon/Mobile’s plans for further oil and gas exploration in Russia. Their current fields cover the size of Wyoming.
Putin has a reputation for sudden unexpected tactics. His statement was very clear, “ In our future steps on the way toward the restoration of Russia-United States relations, we will proceed from the policy pursued by the administration of Donald J. Trump.” Now every foreign leader and policy expert in the United States and around the world is analyzing the risks involved in such a change. It is significant that Republican leaders such as Senator John McCain are fierce critics of Putin, whom Mc Cain calls “a thug and a murderer” from his record as chief of the KGB.
During the past four years, Russia has been expanding its power throughout the region. First they moved in and annexed Crimea. Troops then continued northeastern into Ukraine where a stalemate exists. Recently, Russian hackers turned off the lights in Ukraine. Russia deployed nuclear-capable forces to the borders of three small NATO Baltic members: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. They also appear to be working to promote right wing parties in elections in Germany and France to weaken NATO. Finally, Britain and France report Russian practice bombers and submarine missions off their coasts, something that happened decades ago during the Cold War.
Putin has sought to challenge the United States position as the world’s super power even though Russia cannot match our military or economic strengths. He may have only one aircraft carrier, but his cyberattacks, hacking the Democractic National Committee emails, interfered and affected our presidential election. The result is Donald Trump, the president- elect, with whom Putin has cultivated a warm, positive relationship. It is important to know that Trump has been influenced by two advisers during his campaign who have close ties to Russia. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager resigned after coming under investigation by the F.B.I. for his deep business activities in Russia. General Michael Flynn, who is his choice for National Security Adviser, has a history of Russian involvement. He was in Russia, interviewed on RT television, the Kremlin propaganda channel, calling for “closer ties between the United States and Russia.”. When questioned about this, he responded that “RT is like CNN, a news channel.”
It is very interesting to read what leading Russian political analysts are saying about Putin’s intentions. Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former media adviser to Putin said, “I don’t think that Putin has a plan. I think that he is stunned by the number of bonus points that he has gotten.” Another analyst wrote, “Trump’s spirit is already here.” Nicholas Petrov, a Russian political scientist added, “I think that Putin looks strong in relation to the United States and he has freedom to maneuver, and he can do what he wants to demonstrate that the United States should recognize that Russia is not a regional power, but a great power that should be taken into account.”
`A final comment on Putin’s abrupt reversal was from Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk assessment firm in Washington, and a former state department official. “ We are in a whiplash moment, and I think it is unprecedented in several respects. The most important one is that the baton is about to be passed from an administration with a very hard line on Russia to one that is very much more sympathetic.” He concluded, “They are trying to level the playing field, not by raising Russia up, but through a declining West. I don’t think Putin is out to make America great again.”
As a concerned citizen, I wonder about certain members of the Trump family, his son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who appear slated to move to D.C. to become part of his administration. I hope they are urging him to learn more about Vladimir Putin, his brutal KGB history and his complex motives. I hope they are urging him to beware of flattery, and Putin’s suggestions to bring the United States and Russia closer together in the months after January 20.
How about a road sign: DANGER AHEAD: BRIDGE NOT SAFE!