It will be wrong to suggest that President Donald Trump was unusually soft and cooperative towards President Vladimir Putin during their first ever meeting at Hamburg, on the sidelines of G20. The meeting, originally scheduled for 35 to 40 minutes, lasted for well over two hours. No one outside the small three-member team on each side may have any clue of what exactly transpired in the meeting. Other than the two heads of states, two countries’ top diplomats – Rex Tillerson of the US and Sergei Lavrov of Russia – and two translators, none else was privy to the proceedings. However, what did not escape the attention of most G20 members is the length of the meeting and bonhomie between Trump and Putin.
This may have upset some of them and provided opportunity to the media to interpret their own way. Going by the public versions of Tillerson and Lavrov, the two presidents discussed a whole lot of issues. Briefly, Putin said he and Trump discussed Ukraine, Syria, the fight against terrorism, and cybercrime and cyber security, giving no further details. It was reported that Trump told Putin: “it’s an honour to be with you.” And, Putin responded by saying, “I’m delighted to meet you.” Later, Tillerson told the media that “there was a very clear, positive chemistry between the two.”
However, this is not the first time that a meeting between the two heads of states has ended on a positive note. Trump may have spoken repeatedly of finding common ground with the Kremlin, but other previous US presidents too have echoed the sentiment of positive approach and better rapport to bring the two countries closer to reduce tension and improve cooperation. They include democrat Bill Clinton’s bonhomie with Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. Barack Obama personally tried to improve relations with Putin, after Russia’s Georgia invasion in 2008. And, George W. Bush was reported to have famously looked into Putin’s eyes in 2001 and said he got “a sense of his soul.”
But, the two sides could never get truly closer to each other as vested interests in the US, Europe and, especially, among some powerful NATO members always put a spanner, seriously doubting Russia’s intent. They weighed all summit meetings between the two leaders by history, military might, and competing visions of world order. Nothing changed even after the dismantling of the Soviet Union and Russia becoming a democratic republic. Surprisingly, the critics of Russia miss China as the real future contender of the US in military and economic might. China has expanded massive influence in Asia and Oceania, Africa and South America, building new ‘silk route’ and liberally offering overseas economic and military aid. Today, the real global challenger to the US is China, militarily and economically, and not Russia. China sits on the biggest dollar hoard outside the US. China’s military expansion and strategic might in the Pacific and Indian Ocean regions are highly noticeable.
Russia, despite its nuclear, space and military might, is rarely accused of trying to make territorial expansion. Under socialism, the Soviet Union or USSR did strategically support communist regimes in countries such as Vietnam, Cuba and China, sharing the same political philosophy. The USSR also supported the partly socialistic regimes of Iraq, Syria and Libya. The Soviet Union had shunned the concept of taking any active role in exporting communism outside its boundary as envisioned by Leon Trotsky. The political or economic principles behind Trotskyism championed the cause of establishing socialism throughout the world through revolution. That’s history. On record, Russia had set an example by respecting the erstwhile Soviet Union constitution, allowing its other republics to voluntarily dissect and become independent. The USSR had as many as 15 socialist republics under its control. In December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as the president of the Soviet Union. Boris Yeltsin became the president of Russia. The USSR’s striking hammer-and-sickle flag for decades was lowered for the last time over Kremlin. It was replaced by the present Russian tricolour. The republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia were allowed to leave the USSR in 1990. Ukraine left the Union in August, 1991.
Unfortunately, Russia continued to be a suspect before the US-led western lobby and other US-military-protected Asian nations such as Japan and South Korea. The successive US governments after 1991 played in the hands of the US and Western arms lobbies. The anti-Russia policy helped the US armament industry become the world’s largest defence exporter, followed by some of the wealthy NATO members. The People’s Republic of China is now emerging as a major global arms trader. Few will disagree that the biggest financial beneficiaries of the US-led military attacks in West Asia, which destabilised the erstwhile strong governments in Iraq and Libya and creating and supporting a civil war to oust the Bashar Hafez al-Assad regime in Syria, are the Western arms lobby and dreaded Islamic terrorist organisations such as Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIL and Pakistan’s state-sponsored Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed among others.
If President Donald Trump is able to avoid repeating history, it will be a big achievement for the US and world in terms of peace and security. The anti-terrorism campaign will gather momentum. It is expected to see a new world order under a common US-Russia surveillance that will make terrorist organisations think twice before targeting innocent civilians in countries such as India, the US, Afghanistan, UK, Germany, France, Indonesia, Kenya and large parts of West Asia and Africa. Much will depend on how Trump faces his strong vocal critics in the US, UK and Germany. The election-interference bogey against Russia is active not only in the US, but also in poll-bound Germany. This is likely to lead nowhere. The question is: can Trump succeed opposing them?