Muhammad Ali Baig
WHY Russian President Putin and American President Trump seem to be friends instead of being the other way around? Why Trump seeks reinstatement of Russia in G-7 while making it again G-8? Why despite evidence from US National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of Russian hacking and meddling in 2016 US presidential election, Trump seems ignorant about the Russian connection and surprisingly is desperate about the ongoing Mueller Investigation? It is argued by the political pundits and analysts around the globe that Trump’s victory over Clinton was reminiscent of Truman’s victory over Dewey in November 1948. However, Trump’s turbulent yet uncertain presidency has attracted many theories including the hacking of American Elections by Russia. President Trump is an audacious person and appears to be quite adamant in his decisions. It is noticeable that his audacity coupled by his ultra-nationalist rhetoric is the real bone of contention that is causing the American media and society to criticize him in an intense manner. However, Trump’s admiration for the Russian President Putin is way beyond the understanding of a common person. It is conceivable that Putin is a man of vision and authority but first calling him ‘a competitor’ and then ‘he is not my enemy,’ ‘a good leader’ and ‘will be a friend’ – are such remarks which do not make any sense. Historically Russia and America are great powers and peer competitors, consequently and naturally they are destined to be at each other’s throats. Moreover, it is a structural feature for both of these to remain contenders not friends. Nevertheless, presumably Trump’s earnest endeavour to contain or put a halt on rising China is causing him to do these things.
The joint press conference after the Helsinki Summit revolved around one question “Was Russia meddled in 2016 US Presidential Elections?” Trump said that “our expectations are grounded in realism but our hopes are grounded in America’s desire for friendship, cooperation and peace – and I think I can speak on behalf of Russia.” Trump further referred to Mueller probe as a disaster and raised questions on Hillary Clinton. Amazingly, Putin backed Trump on this and talked about 400 million USD sent to Hillary by Mr. Bill Browder for her presidential campaign from the profits Browder made from Russia. There is one important aspect that the commentators have perhaps deliberately neglected to pay heed is that Trump’s increased affection and trust for Putin is the former’s desperate attempt to break-away Russia from China. Trump seems confident to pay any price to confront China even him being the primary target of severe media criticism. It is noticeable that Trump’s National Security Strategy unveiled in December 2017 clearly declared China and Russia to be ‘challengers’ to American power, influence and interests. Ostensibly, the strategy was the brainchild of Secretary of Defence Gen (R) James Mattis and former National Security Advisor Lt Gen H R McMaster. Nevertheless, China’s rise has raised alarms in America and frenzy trade war between the two can be said as expression of such feelings.
What are those “tapes” that the American media have been talking so much about? There are rumours of some audio as well as video data related to Trump which if released can harm him damage beyond any recognition. It is speculated that this data is in the possession of Putin and actually he has been using it as leverage and a bait to lure Trump where Putin wants him to be. Perhaps this is the reason that Trump did not talk about Edward Snowden – a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer who leaked enormous highly classified surveillance data without authorization. Snowden is a wanted man in America who took asylum in Russia and currently living somewhere in Moscow under state protection. John Bolton U.S. National Security Advisor replied to an answer a few days back when he was asked about the extradition of 12 Russian nationals which were indicted by Robert Mueller by saying that U.S. and Russia have not signed Extradition Treaty mutually. It is understandable that without this treaty the 12 Russian nationals just cannot be extradited to U.S. in any case. It is quite surprising that among those 12 Russians some are high ranking Russian Intelligence GRU officers. However, the existing treaty on mutual assistance on criminal cases dates back to 1999 is still in effect; nevertheless, it depends on the Trump Administration that whether it intends to charge the 12 Russians under the premise of this treaty or not.
Undoubtedly Russian President Vladimir Putin is the most assertive strategist and a statesman of the contemporary era who has been successfully able to screw with the minds of the American intelligence and security community and has successfully put the Syrian Conflict to the background. The primary weapon used by Putin in his pursuit of power, influence and intimidation remains cyber warfare. It is one’s fear that perhaps Putin’s cyber force also meddled in United Kingdom’s referendum regarding European Union. This move has somehow cracked the dream of one Europe and resulted in an unmatched uncertainty in European affairs. Apart from the probe that Trump referred to as “rigged witch hunt” and the unprecedented friendly relations among the powerful leaders of two historic rivals – the recent indictment is something serious. Former Director FBI James Comey feared that Trump might have been compromised by the Russians and quite recently White House is seeking to revoke Comey’s security clearance. Quite interestingly, Dan Coats – a Republican and the Director of National Intelligence said that “Russia is the most aggressive foreign actor in efforts to divide America” and “The warning lights are blinking red again… Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
— The writer is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.