Thursday, 19 July 2018

A Russian appraisal of the Helsinki summit

Putin and Trump’s Unagreed Agreement – a Catastrophe for Europe

By Rostislav Ishchenko


Saker drawing from community
18 July, 2018


Contradictions between Russia and the US are so substantial and common ground is so small that the vast majority of experts, recognising the importance of the fact of the meeting in Helsinki itself, nevertheless stressed that one shouldn’t expect some breakthrough in bilateral relations or at least reaching an agreement on one minor question…

Washington and Moscow have no minor questions and, taking into account the global level of the standoff, even such unnecessary and burdensome things for the US as Ukraine (which there is a need to first of all relinquish), can’t be handed over by Trump without any conditions (or at least not yet). This is an asset, even if it is garbage, and it is necessary to sell it, even cheaply. At least, Washington isn’t yet ready to throw Kiev into the political garbage heap, having recognised that in 2014 they mistakenly acquired rotten goods.

So, we have a situation where both parties even prior to negotiations knew that they wouldn’t be able to come to some arrangement, and they didn’t even prepare for such a thing (it wasn’t planned to sign anything following the results of negotiations). At the same time both parties needed the event to be successful. Trump obviously blackmails the European Union with a possible agreement with Russia. But Putin also needs to show Europe that there are other fish in the sea besides them. The Europeans, who were already abandoned by the US, have been turning towards Russia for too long and with uncertainty. Moreover, they constantly send signals to Washington about their readiness to more or less preserve their rigid anti-Russian position (in things that don’t concern the gas supply) if Trump stopsundermining transatlantic solidarity”.

The position of Europe is clear. It isn’t a coincidence that Trump, while enumerating the enemies of the US (the EU, China, and Russia) made it clear that he considers Russia to be the smaller problem, because there are practically no economic contradictions (Nord Stream-2” doesn’t count) with it. It’s not China, with which the US has the biggest negative trade balance, but the EU, which Trump fairly defined as the main trade competitor receiving unjustified economic benefits from political agreements with the US, that is the main enemy of the US.

In these conditions, America hypothetically resolving its military-political contradictions with Russia reduced the value of the EU as an ally for Washington to zero. In this case Trump, who already threatened European leaders, could indeed end all military-political and economic agreements with Europe, which, in turn, would be fraught with a political and economic catastrophe for the European Union.

Neither the Russian nor the Chinese market can simultaneously consume in one fell swoop the entire volume of the EU’s export to the US. On the contrary, both Beijing and Moscow carry out profitable trade with the European Union. In this direction the EU covered its deficit thanks to making profit from trade with the US. Europe used (and hoped to continue to use it) its role of a springboard for the fight against Russia as an argument that was supposed to keep Trump away from making the last step (complete separation with the EU). In recent days, Merkel, after the NATO summit, started talking literally with Poroshenko’s words, declaring that Trump’s pretensions to Europe concerning the insufficient financial contribution to NATO aren’t justified, because Europe battles with Russia for the interests of the US.

For the EU it was crucial that this argument continued to work. Otherwise, Washington indeed would have more common ground with Moscow than with Brussels. And Europe isn’t ready for a sharp confrontation with the US. Having rested on its laurels, it wasn’t engaged (in difference, for example, from China) in the diversification of economic ties and appeared to be strongly dependent on access to the American market.

Without having risked to be ahead Trump in the question of normalising relations with Russia, EU leaders were fatally afraid that Trump and Putin, despite all difficulties, will do the impossible and reach an agreement, especially as both proved to be people who are ready to instantly make decisions that change the destiny of the world.

The position taken by the EU raised the value of the summit for Russia too. Concerning relations with the US, Moscow can wait until Washington is ready for reconciliation on its conditions. But, taking into account the obvious intention of Europe to manoeuvre between Russia and the US, trying to preserve the geopolitical configuration that is profitable for itself, but doesn’t suit either Trump nor Putin, Russia was also interested in showing to the whole world the success of the summit and good prospects for achieving definitive and comprehensive agreements.

And it is indeed this task that was the most difficult problem for both parties. Think about it. You know that you can’t reach an agreement. You also know that the whole world is afraid of your agreement, because playing on your contradictions helped many countries to rise, become stronger, and start laying down claims for the first roles. A Russian-American agreement would’ve immediately cancelled out half (if not more) these achievements. You know that everybody knows that you can’t reach an agreement, and everyone closely watches the results of your meeting.

It is possible to try to dupe observers and to present some communiqué that means nothing as an agreement. Hundreds, if not thousands of journalists and experts” from hot-air shows would be deceived. They, in turn, would deceive millions of readers and viewers. But this will give nothing. Professional politicians and diplomats can’t be caught on chaff. They will immediately understand that you achieve anything and that you are simply trying to hide this failure, and will start to act in the corresponding manner. The opinion of ochlos in this case doesn’t play a role — international politics isn’t elections, decisions aren’t made by universal suffrage and are never transparent.

Trump and Putin were faced with the task of holding the meeting in such a way that nobody would be deceived concerning its results, but nevertheless selling to the world the absence of any decisions as a serious success. And this is what they did.

Just the phrase of Putin that he at first was sceptical about the meeting giving any result, but conversation was very promising and there is sense in having further regular meetings, is worth a lot by itself. Approximately the same assessment, only in other expressions, sounded from Trump’s lips.

For Europe this is a catastrophe. It means that in the near future Washington has to avoid strengthening the confrontation with Russia, because dialogue with it started to be outlined with the possibility of arriving at some agreements. What was so constructive about what Trump offered to Putin that made the Russian president sharply raise his assessment of the productivity of the meeting, nobody knows. But Europeans know the American tradition – brought to perfection by Trump – of solving their problems at the expense of former allies when their services become unneeded. And they are afraid and try to guess who (or what) Washington decided to sacrifice this time.

The absolute predictability of the results of the meeting played a mean trick on European politicians. They very much got used to a two-dimensional world where everything that isn’t a victory is a defeat; they very much expected clashes between the personal ambitions of Putin and Trump so much so that the elementary move – documenting the contradictions, discussing the versions of decisions proposed by the parties, and, without anticipating the result, agreeing to hold further negotiations – turned out for them to be an unpleasant surprise that is worse than if Trump had directly recognised Crimea as Russian and withdrew the US from NATO in Helsinki.

It would be at least some certainty. It would be clear for them what to do and how to react. And what to do in the circumstances? Where to run: to Washington or to Moscow? To remain loyal to an old suzerain or to try to adhere to a new one before the others do? How to solve the contradictions inside the EU? And there are still a lot of important questions that remain unanswered.

Moreover, unlike Russia, Europe can’t wait. By meeting Putin, Trump brought the US out of zugzwang, having handed over to the European Union the right to make this same move, which only its worsens position.

After all, according to the logic of how events developed that politicians and diplomats have to obligatorily take into account, consultations between Moscow and Washington must start for the purpose of arriving at concrete agreements. They can fruitlessly last months and even years, but can almost suddenly yield fruits.

If the EU wants to remain in the game, then it must formulate its position and its proposals before Moscow and Washington reach an agreement. Otherwise an agreement will be reached at the expense of the EU. In this case Europe won’t even be invited to the table, similar to how Ukraine hasn’t been invited for more than a year, and in passing, among really important problems, attempts were made to parr it off onto each other to supplement real bonuses received in other directions.


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