Jul 6th 2017

Putin and Trump’s Tainted Love



MOSCOW – US President Donald Trump must be giddy: this week, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, he will finally meet his Russian counterpart and strongman-hero Vladimir Putin.

It is rare for someone who has reached the exalted office of President of the United States to retain the capacity for, much less interest in, hero worship. But it is also rare – if not unprecedented – for someone in that position to owe so much to a single foreign leader. For Trump, Putin’s likely intrusions in the 2016 presidential election may well have contributed to his victory, even as they have also done considerable damage to his presidency.

Trump expressed his admiration for Putin well before the election, and, it seems, fantasized about meeting him – a dream so potent, apparently, that it drove Trump to claim that he actually had, at the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. (Before the pageant, Trump took to Twitter to ask his followers whether they thought Putin would attend, and, if so, whether he would be Trump’s “new best friend.”)

That story was debunked, but Trump wasn’t ready to give up on his dream. In 2015, he seemed to indicate that he and Putin had shared the “green room” on the US news program 60 Minutes, for which they were both interviewed, though he quickly backtracked on those claims, as their interviews had actually taken place on different continents, which was easily verifiable. Trump then claimed to have spoken to Putin by phone – a story he later revised to say that he had spoken with members of Putin’s inner circle.

In any case, Trump’s fantasy will now become reality. But, at a time when a special counsel is investigating whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia’s election meddling, lifting any of the sanctions, even the most trivial ones, that Barack Obama introduced to punish Russia for its interference in the campaign might not be the most sensible idea. Yet there are whispers that Trump may do just that. And, given his tenuous relationship with sensibleness, such a scenario is not farfetched.

Were Trump to take that tack, Putin would of course have reason to celebrate. But, short of such an outcome, one must ask whether, from Putin’s perspective, Russia’s apparent efforts to help Trump get elected have paid off.

Trump is certainly sowing chaos across the West. Russia’s generals, we can assume, rejoice each time Trump refuses to endorse NATO’s Article 5 – the alliance’s bedrock collective defense clause – and instead poisons the alliance by railing against its leaders for their inadequate defense spending.

Trump’s disagreements with German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who declared after the G7 summit in May that the US can no longer be considered the “reliable partner” it once was – have also fueled deep uncertainty. Left to lead efforts to resolve the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Germany no doubt is feeling somewhat exposed – and Russia is feeling somewhat heartened.

But Trump’s evident belief in the chaos theory of government is, overall, probably not good for Russia, especially at a time when its economy, after three years of sanctions and low oil prices, is gasping for air. Putin is failing to uphold his end of a tacit bargain with the Russian middle classes – “you keep quiet, and I keep improving your lifestyle” – and the resulting disquiet is increasingly on display on the streets of Russia’s cities. Another source of uncertainty is the last thing that Putin wants or that Russia’s economy needs.

Of course, it is unlikely that growing dissent will dissuade Putin from standing for re-election next spring. In fact, he probably feels that he has little choice but to remain president for the rest of his life, for the sake of his own safety.

But without that all-important bargain – which provided Putin with a kind of legitimacy more durable in Russia that any vote could ever be – it will become increasingly difficult to keep the various factions of the Russian elite in line. Instead, those factions’ ever-suspicious members may well begin to question the long-term viability of the system that Putin has constructed.

No one knows what will happen as those questions attract more attention. In 1998, a year before Putin first became president, few outside Russia – or within the country, for that matter – had ever heard of him. It was the implosion of Boris Yeltsin’s legitimacy in his last year in office that put the thin-skinned ex-KGB colonel on Russia’s political map.

At the root of the affinity between Trump and Putin is the sense that both are essentially strongmen. But that affinity – and their relationship, whatever it may be – could be what weakens them. Just as Putin’s interventions in the US presidential election have undermined Trump’s presidency, reflected in record-low approval ratings, Trump’s chaotic behavior has damaged Putin’s position, already undermined by his own economic mismanagement. Putin must now look over his shoulder even more often – for challenges from the street and, perhaps, for challenges from within.

At the upcoming G20 summit, Trump should savor his long-awaited handshake with Putin. Before long, both Trump and his autocratic hero could be regretting that they ever sought each other out.


Nina L. Khrushcheva is Professor of International Affairs and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at The New School and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org



To subscribe to Facts and Arts' weekly newsletter, please click here.

To follow Facts & Arts' Editor, Olli Raade, on Twitter, please click here.

If you have something to say that you want to say on Facts & Arts, please

Write to the Editor, Olli Raade, or write a comment in the comments section.

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Apr 16th 2021
EXTRACT: "When we examined the development of nations worldwide since 1820, we found that among rich Western countries like the United States, the Netherlands and France, improvements in income, education, safety and health tracked or even outpaced rising gross domestic product for over a century. But in the 1950s, even as economic growth accelerated after World War II, well-being in these countries lagged.
Apr 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Some presidents indulge in the “Mount Rushmore syndrome” making an obvious effort to achieve greatness. Normally soft-spoken and apparently modest Biden is making his own bid for immortality."
Apr 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "New ways of thinking about the role of government are as important as new priorities. Many commentators have framed Biden’s infrastructure plan as a return to big government. But the package is spread over eight years, will raise public spending by only one percentage point of GDP, and is projected to pay for itself eventually. A boost in public investment in infrastructure, the green transition, and job creation is long overdue."
Apr 7th 2021
EXTRACT: " One can, and perhaps should, take the optimistic view that moral panics in the US blow over; reason will once again prevail. It could be that the Biden era will take the sting out of Trumpism, and the tolerance for which American intellectual life has often been admired will be reinvigorated. This might even happen while the noxious effects of American influence still rage in other countries. For the sake of America and the world, one can only hope it happens soon.  "
Mar 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "By refusing (despite having some good reasons) to end electoral gerrymandering, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., has directly enabled the paralyzing hyper-partisanship that reached its nadir during Donald Trump’s presidency. By striking down all limits on corporate spending on political campaigns in the infamous 2010 Citizens United decision, he has helped to entrench dark money in US politics. And by gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts has facilitated the racist voter-suppression tactics now being pursued in many Republican-controlled states."
Mar 24th 2021
EXTRACT: "the UK’s tough choices accumulate, and the problems lurking around the corner look menacing. Britain will have to make the best of Brexit. But it will be a long, hard struggle, all the more so with an evasive fabulist in charge."
Mar 15th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the years, the approach of most American policymakers toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been Israel-centric with near total disregard for the suffering endured by the Palestinian people. The architects of policy in successive US administrations have discussed the conflict as if the fate of only one party (Israel) really mattered. Israelis were treated as full human beings with hopes and fears, while Palestinians were reduced to a problem that needed to be solved so that Israelis could live in peace and security.  ..... It is not just that Israelis and Palestinians haven’t been viewed with an equal measure of concern. It’s worse than that. It appears that Palestinians were judged as less ​human than Israelis, and were, therefore, not entitled to make demands to have their rights recognized and protected."
Mar 8th 2021
EXTRACTS: "XThere’s a global shortage in semiconductors, and it’s becoming increasingly serious." ...... "The automotive sector has been worst affected by the drought, in an era where microchips now form the backbone of most cars. Ford is predicting a 20% slump in production and Tesla shut down its model 3 assembly line for two weeks. In the UK, Honda was forced to temporarily shut its plant as well." ..... " As much as 70% of the world’s semiconductors are manufactured by just two companies, Taiwan Semiconductor (TSMC) and Samsung."
Mar 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Back in 1992, Lawrence H. Summers, then the chief economist at the World Bank, and I warned that pushing the US Federal Reserve’s annual inflation target down from 4% to 2% risked causing big problems. Not only was the 4% target not producing any discontent, but a 2% target would increase the risk of the Fed’s interest-rate policy hitting the zero lower bound. Our objections went unheeded. Fed Chair Alan Greenspan reduced the inflation target to 2%, and we have been paying for it ever since. I have long thought that many of our economic problems would go away if we could rejigger asset markets in such a way as to make a 5% federal funds rate consistent with full employment in the late stage of a business cycle."
Mar 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Under these conditions, the Fed is probably worried that markets will instantly crash if it takes away the punch bowl. And with the increase in public and private debt preventing the eventual monetary normalization, the likelihood of stagflation in the medium term – and a hard landing for asset markets and economies – continues to increase."
Mar 1st 2021
EXTRACT: "Massive fiscal and monetary stimulus programs in the United States and other advanced economies are fueling a raging debate about whether higher inflation could be just around the corner. Ten-year US Treasury yields and mortgage rates are already climbing in anticipation that the US Federal Reserve – the de facto global central bank – will be forced to hike rates, potentially bursting asset-price bubbles around the world. But while markets are probably overstating short-term inflation risks for 2021, they do not yet fully appreciate the longer-term dangers."
Feb 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "To be sure, calls to “build back better” from the pandemic imply some awareness of the need for systemic change. But the transformation we need extends beyond constructing modern infrastructure or unlocking private investment in any one country. We need to re-orient – indeed, re-invent – global politics, so that countries can cooperate far more effectively in creating a better world."
Feb 23rd 2021
EXTRACT: "So, notwithstanding the predictable release of pent-up demand for consumer durables, face-to-face services show clear evidence – in terms of both consumer demand and employment – of permanent scarring. Consequently, with the snapback of pent-up demand for durables nearing its point of exhaustion, the recovery of the post-pandemic US economy is likely to fall well short of vaccine development’s “warp speed.” "
Feb 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Human rights abuses under Erdogan are beyond the pale of inhumanity and moral decadence. The list of Erdogan’s violations and cruelty is too long to numerate. The detention and horrifying torture of thousands of innocent people for months and at times for years, without being charged, is hard to fathom. Many prisoners are left languishing in dark cells, often in solitary confinement. The detention of tens of thousands of men and hundreds of women, many with their children, especially following the 2016 failed coup, has become common. It is calculated to inflict horrendous pain and suffering to bring the prisoners to the breaking point, so that they confess to crimes they have never committed."
Feb 20th 2021
Courtyard of the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, circa 1670, (Job Adriaenszoon Berckheyde).
Feb 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "Global regulators will no doubt be concerned about a potential volatility spillover from digital asset prices into traditional capital markets. They may not permit what could quickly amount to effective proxy approval by the back door for companies holding large proportions of a volatile asset on their balance sheets."
Feb 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Since Russians began protesting opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s imprisonment, the security forces have apparently had carte blanche to arrest demonstrators – and they have done so by the thousands. If Russians so much as honk their car horns in solidarity with the protesters, they risk personal repercussions. The official response to the protests goes beyond the Kremlin’s past repression. It is war."
Feb 6th 2021
EXTRACT: ".......like Biden, Roosevelt was certainly no revolutionary. His task was to save American capitalism. He was a repairer, a fixer. The New Deal was achieved not because of Roosevelt’s genius or heroism, but because enough people trusted him to act in good faith. That is precisely what people are expecting from Biden, too. He must save US democracy from the ravages of a political crisis. To do so, he must reestablish trust in the system. He has promised to make his country less polarized, and to restore civility and truth to political discourse. In this endeavor, his lack of charisma may turn out to be his greatest strength. For all that he lacks in grandeur, he makes up for by exuding an air of decency."
Feb 2nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Europe must not lose sight of the long game, which inevitably will center on China, not Russia or relations with post-Brexit Britain. China is already establishing a presence in Iran, and demonstrating that it has the capital, know-how, and technology to project power and influence beyond its borders. Should it succeed in turning the Belt and Road Initiative into a line of geopolitical stepping-stones, it might soon emerge at Europe’s southeastern border in a form that no one in the EU foresaw."
Jan 29th 2021
EXTRACT: "One sign of this change is that, unlike all recent Democratic administrations, Biden’s hasn’t paid obeisance to Wall Street by giving bankers top jobs. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, is a former Federal Reserve chair and academic who has made it clear that she understands the country’s pressing social needs. Moreover, Biden consulted Warren on her economic views, and has named a former Warren adviser as Yellen’s deputy. Yellen’s appointment demonstrates that Biden shares the insight that enabled Trump’s rise: that too many Americans feel that they cannot get a fair share. "