On the Eve of Big Events: Are Trump-Putin Tacit Agreements Limited to Just Syria?

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


Yury Selivanov

Cleaning the “Augean stables” of Russian-American relations must be completed before the inauguration of Donald Trump.

In the article “The mission is still doable”, published on the website of “News Front” on 15th November, this writer made the following suggestion:

“…The military-political relevance of the campaign of the aircraft carrier group to the coast of Syria is considerably lost after the victory in elections in the United States of Donald Trump, who is interested in a constructive dialogue with Moscow on Syria. It is obvious that in such circumstances, massive air strikes with the participation of “Kuznetsov” can become a certain dissonance in attempts at establishing such dialogue.”

A few minutes (!) after publishing the article this assumption was refuted by life itself – the Russian armed forces began strikes on terrorist bases in Syria.

It would seem that a banal error was committed by the author, which was a consequence of my unfortunate lack of foresight. What more is there to say? But let’s not jump to conclusions. Because even now I am convinced – from the point of view of logic and general understanding of the state of Russian-American relations – there was no mistake in my reasoning. Here is the logic that I was guided with and which itself looks, in my opinion, irrefutable:

The risk of “thread-strippage”, especially undesirable at the beginning of a new relationship, would have been in this case too big. We never know how to react to the unpredictable-and-yet-unclear Trump on unilateral military actions of Russia in such a critically important region. And what if this motivates him to perform a complete review of his current views on issues of relations with Russia? Isn’t it too much that was put at stake?

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But as soon as Russian airstrikes in Syria began, it meant that precisely because of this logic, it turns out that Moscow could not act unilaterally anyway, and some agreement with Trump on Syria is likely to have been achieved in advance. Perhaps even before the elections in the USA!

Today, many publications publish interesting photos taken in December 2015 at a reception in Moscow in honor of the anniversary of the TV channel “Russia Today”. In these photos, at the table with Russian President Vladimir Putin sits one of the closest associates of Donald Trump, Michael Flynn, who just yesterday was appointed Advisor to the new US President on national security issues.

If such direct contact of the highest level took place almost a year before the elections, they, especially, had to be prolonged and intensified in the future, as soon as Trump was going to win. And absolutely it cannot be excluded that already at this stage the Russian and American experts came to a common understanding on the Syrian problem, and even developed a certain unified approach.

Only in this case the alleged unilateral impact of Russia’s actions in Syria no longer look unnecessarily risky and it fits into a certain logic of events. Of course, your humble servant and we could not be privy to such non-public diplomacy and therefore, could not proceed from such own inherent logic.

However, if my current conclusion about the existence of certain preliminary agreements between the Kremlin and Trump’s team on Syria corresponds to reality, and it certainly fits, because it explains a lot, then the question arises – are such a tacit agreements limited to just Syria?

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I’m not sure at all. To be more precise, I am sure that they are not limited to this. Because the issues of Russian-American relations are much broader, and so-called “package deals” are quite typical for them.

And so I would not completely exclude the probability of achieving with Trump a similar arrangement for another painful point of these relations – Ukraine. Moreover, the agreement of such a plan does not require from Trump any special action, because he is still de jure President of the United States. It will be Russia who will actively act, like in the case of Syria. And Washington meanwhile will mainly passively play along. Obama, judging by his extremely pessimistic statements during his visit to Europe, already received the appropriate prompts from the staff of Trump and is unlikely ready to ignore them.

Trump as the future President is absolutely not interested in carrying with him in the future those mountains of practically unsolvable problems, which the current American administration, with their adventurism, piled up in Syria and Ukraine. Trump probably wants the main sensitivity of these matters to be removed by the time of his inauguration. And thus, he would begin his presidency with a clean slate and with untied hands. Moreover, his Headquarters surely understands very well that it is precisely in Syria and Ukraine that Washington adventured too far and took a priori a deliberately non-defendable position, which anyway they will be obliged to cede. And as long as it is inevitable, it’s not Trump who needs to start this process and begin his presidency with such high-profile defeats. It’s Obama who has messed things up – and it is for him to clean it up. And the time he has left is nothing at all – less than two months.

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It is precisely for this reason that the situation in Ukraine should be expected to develop no less rapidly than in Syria. And the start of these changes can happen in the coming days, because obvious Zeitnot is seen. I repeat – everything Obama is able to do in this situation is avoiding to put a stick in the wheel of natural development of events. And given the fact that the puppet regime in Kiev has kept itself afloat almost exclusively due to the full support of Washington, nothing special is required from Obama besides calming down on this matter and not to interfere with the natural development of events. And judging by his minor statements in Europe, he is psychologically already quite ready for it.

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