Rostislav Ishchenko: Trump’s Geopolitical Cruise

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The president of the United States Donald Trump put an appearance in at the NATO summit, went to Great Britain – which is leaving the EU, and now prepares to meet the president of Russia Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Nothing unexpected happened in Brussels, is happening in London, and will happen in Helsinki…

If to approach this affair sensibly, without excess emotions, then it will become clear that “unpredictable Trump” is more predictable than “predictable Obama”.

We are regularly told that Trump the businessman doesn’t understand anything in politics and acts impudently and forcefully, but absolutely unsystematically, destroying the existing western world order without offering anything in exchange. But is this so?

Let’s start with the fact that Trump has actively propagandised his concept of neo-isolationism since the middle of the 1980’s (he started even before the collapse of the USSR). Its main component is criticising the military-political and financial-economic system created by the US and its western allies, which back then (in the 1980’s) still wasn’t global, but soon, after the collapse of the USSR, became exactly that. Trump already back then rather precisely pointed out the defects of this system that will inevitably lead to its crisis, fraught with the collapse of American statehood.

In particular, he, unlike many boastful “economists” who still consider that the printing machine of the Federal Reserve System is a reliable means of solving all problems, already back then specified that the growing gap between expenses and the income of the American budget will sooner or late result in America’s bankruptcy. And the later it is, the more horrifying the system’s collapse will be. But as the lion’s share of expenses went on financing a foreign policy that was active and aggressive, but didn’t promote either strengthening the US’ security or solving its economic problems, Trump suggested to replace the policy of globalism with a policy of isolationism.

Perhaps if the USSR hadn’t disintegrated, Trump’s arguments would still have been listened to back then. But the access that started to be opened to the huge massif of resources of the suddenly evaporated socialist camp temporarily removed the sharpness of the problem and allowed the West to stretch the agony of the system out for 30+ years. And during all these years Trump perfected his arguments and the system of his views, without having doubted his correctness for even a minute.

Trump’s triumph was overdue. And he himself isn’t young any more, and the US is not in the best shape. Especially since his hands, already after being elected as President, have been tied for a long time by the counteraction of the Democrats, who for nearly a year have been seriously trying to achieve Trump’s impeachment. And he had no unambiguous support also in his own party (moreover, in his own administration).

One and a half years was needed to unshackle his hands in foreign and domestic policy. It seems that during these one and a half years Trump managed to form if not a fully-fledged, then at least partial national consensus concerning the model proposed by him of a new international policy designed to ensure the restoration of the lost American power. In any case, he forced the Democrats to shut up, investigations against him came to practically naught, and the “free press” that poured dirt on him loses the trust and support of American voters while Trump increases his approval rating. He managed to make cardinal replacements in his team, and in key directions connected to foreign policy too (Secretary of State and the Adviser for National Security).

Regardless of what hawks the new ones are considered to be, they pursue Trump’s policy, and not their own, and they work effectively. In any case, the visit of the adviser for national security John Bolton to Moscow favourably differed from the work of American diplomats during the first period of Trump’s presidency. He worked without excess noise, he didn’t make loud statements, he conducted negotiations quietly, he didn’t hide that the US and Russia’s positions are almost diametrically opposite, but placed an emphasis on the intention to reach an agreement and managed to obtain in a short period of time the consent of Moscow to hold a meeting in literally two weeks (which in world practice is a rare case – after all, meetings between heads of States demand long and systematic preparation).

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I.e., a team (and not a set of officials) appeared for Trump, and this team started to work. So what is it trying to achieve?

This was shown long before the NATO summit. Without hiding the existence of deep contradictions with Moscow and emphasising the intention to take a hard negotiation line, Trump repeatedly specified to his allies that they, firstly, don’t fulfil their own obligation to spend no less than 2% of GDP on the maintenance of NATO (and for defense in general), and secondly, the money thus saved pays Russia for energy resources. He called this situation unacceptable and declared his intention to change it.

If we approach matters objectively, then the situation is indeed absurd and indeed absolutely unacceptable for the US. While Washington – sapping the last strength and inflating the bubble of national debt above any reasonable limits – spends huge money on the standoff with Russia worldwide, its allies appropriate some of this money (shifting their obligations for financing military programs to the US). Even worse – they spend this money on purchasing rather cheap energy resources in Russia. Thus, three-pronged damage is being inflicted on the US:

  1. The national debt and the budget deficit grow;

  2. American money is being spent by Europe on strengthening Russia – the geopolitical opponent of the US;

  3. The European economy receives an exclusive price for energy resources, which increase its competitiveness in relation to America’s.

In fact, the many-years-old position of Europe led to the fact that the US, getting into crippling debt, financed their geopolitical (Russia) and economic (EU) competitors. Obama and Clinton’s neocons agreed to suffer this situation for ideological reasons. But Trump, absolutely in a Marxist way, decided that practice is a criterion of truth, and that the financing of ideologically close regimes for having a “pretty face” inevitably leads to the crash of the donor economy, irrespective of whether the donor is the USSR financing African “Marxists” in the 1960’s-1980’s or the US financing European “democrats” in the 1990’s and the first two decades of the 21st century.

The EU didn’t immediately believe that the US President can seriously threaten them with the termination of cooperation within the framework NATO should Europe refuse to assume its part of the burden. But after Trump in fact dispersed the “G7” – having stated that it would be more comfortable to talk to them if Russia was present at the table, and also after he in fact imposed economic sanctions on Europe, having stipulated the possible cancellation of prohibitive duties on a big range of European goods should the EU abandon energy cooperation with Russia (this is a considerably wider demand than just blocking the construction of “Nord Stream-2”) – the EU was obliged to believe it. The demand to start paying for security constantly sounded.

At the last NATO summit Trump repeated and strengthened his demands. Now he considers that EU countries must spend no less than 4% of GDP on defense. Europeans reluctantly agreed to only 2%, and in the uncertain future at that. They thought to satisfy Trump with this, but faced obstruction.

After the summit Trump went to London and immediately declared that Boris Johnson, who resigned the day prior, could replace May as the Prime Minister with success. This can be attributed to the usual bravado. But if we think about it, Johnson criticised May by saying that her version of Brexit, which she presented as being strict, is insufficiently strict and suggested to behave with Europe in the same way that Trump does.

As a reminder, for three and a half decades Trump has defended the concept of “resetting” the US with the help of a strategy of neo-isolationism. But Washington can’t simply leave all global structures and to isolate itself in its shell. If the global market remains, and the US will stop participating in the structures regulating it, then it will unambiguously lose. The US needs its isolationism to become not a lonely protest against globalism, but a consequence of the dismantling of global structures – where everyone would become compelled isolationists, because the world would transition from an economy of open markets to an economy of protectionism.

That’s why the US needs Britain to exit the EU according to the most strict option (without compensation and without the preservation of any ties). Washington needs the EU to start splitting up. The US already hinted at the inexpediency of the existence of the UN, and they practically started the destruction of the WTO, having unleashed – contrary to norms of the organisation – a trade war against the EU and China. The preservation of the EU and NATO will suit Trump only in the case that both structures unconditionally accept Washington’s ultimatum. Then Europe will lose what remains of its sovereignty, it will lose its own economy, and will start to quickly degrade, turning into one big Greece (without an economy, but with debts). But it is only such a Europe that the US agrees to see as an ally, and if there is no such Europe, then all is fair in love and war.

Proceeding from this, it is easy to understand what Donald Trump will aspire to during the meeting with Vladimir Putin.

Firstly, the US needs a purely informational effect. Inside the country it is important for Trump to show that he is able to build relations with such an important partner as Russia. Outside, he needs to show the Europeans that it’s not only they who can flirt with the Kremlin behind Washington’s back, and that Trump himself can also sit down and reach an agreement with Putin, having resolved all contradictions at the expense of third parties/countries.

Secondly, Trump needs to evaluate just how strong the Russian president’s negotiation position is and whether or not it is possible to somehow shift him from this position. He isn’t going to just frighten the EU. If Putin shows an interest in the possible full destruction of Europe, then Trump with pleasure will conclude an agreement on interaction in relation to this important issue. In the end, the EU is an unreliable partner, and it’s not only the US that it irritates with its ambitiousness (at the same time being unable to implement even minimally organised actions). And Russia is a powerful growing economy. In one of the variants of the calculated future Moscow could quite agree on the destruction of the globalised world – in which (including via Europe’s efforts) it wasn’t allowed to occupy the appropriate position – in order to obtain an atomised world, in which Russia will be able to use its opportunities and resources to be among the leaders.

Trump will try to convince the Russian president that Putin’s concept of a multipolar world and Trump’s concept of an atomised world of conflicting autarkies is the same thing. Meanwhile, if Europe drops out of the scheme of big Eurasia, Russia and China – being only two – won’t be able to create a stable united economic space in a short period of time — there will be a lack not only of European technologies (and there certainly will be a shortage), but also of a half-a-billion European market.

Thus, if it was succeeded to persuade Putin to support the anti-European course of Trump, then almost all American problems would be solved (starting with the fact that the threat of preserving the global economy in the conditions of American isolation would disappear, and finishing with the fact that the American market would remain the only solvent market capable of absorbing Chinese goods, which would deprive China of having possibilities to resist the US).

But having dealt with the EU and China, it would be possible to start the formation of new American globalism and, once again, on anti-Russian foundations.

Thirdly, Trump will try to agree about the implementation of several practical deals. Since the US needs to exit crisis points (in Ukraine, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Iraq), he will try to “sell” them to Russia before he will be obliged to simply abandon them.

Fourthly and last of all, Trump indeed needs to establish personally cordial and confidential relations with Putin in order to push forward American interests in the international arena more effectively. There came such a time when even not help, but the benevolent silence of Russia is a big gift in a crisis situation.

Trump now doesn’t even hide that he will probe Putin, and after the meeting he won’t hide what topics they discussed. Trump will simply leave his European partners in the dark concerning how far the presidents of the two superpowers went in this discussion and whether it was succeeded to reach an informal agreement about something, and if it was, then whether these agreements will be formalised at the interstate level or will remain the personal obligations of two politicians. Europe will never find out; it will worry, rush about, and will be obliged to fall into someone arms (either Russia’s or the US’).

Trump counts on it being his arms, but even if the EU will choose Russia, the US hopes that the mass of European problems, the absence of unity in the EU, the special position of the Polish-Baltic limitrophe, and the need to shovel away the horrifying consequences of the Ukrainian crisis won’t allow to realise the potential of such a union, but on the contrary, it will assist in the final collapse of the EU (it looks as if this is in the US’ interests and at the same time Trump isn’t guilty).

Before when the electoral campaign of Trump entered the home straight, I and a number of other observers wrote that “pragmatic” Trump can appear to be a more difficult partner for Russia than “crazy” Clinton. He knows what he wants, he stubbornly tries to achieve it, and he obviously isn’t going to be reconciled with the inevitability of the US’ defeat, which Obama-Clinton’s strategy unconditionally led to. He risks seriously weakening his position, but he transfers the great game from the area of guaranteed defeat to the sphere of the unknown and uncalculated, where answers to unexpected “wrong” moves should be sought away from the [chess – ed] board in real-time, without understanding what scheme the opponent tries to build and as a result being mistaken.

And nevertheless, it is much more interesting with a Trump that is lively and inclined to taking risks than with Obama and Clinton – “correct” up to absolute sterility, politically correct hawks who saw that they were losing, but didn’t want to change the scenario of the game and started to blackmail the world with a flipped [chess – ed] board, hinting that they can also launch the third world war if they are driven into a corner.

Trump is more interesting – he is an intellectual player, and not an obtuse yob. I think that for Putin it won’t be boring with him in Helsinki.

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