Triangles and Polygons in Russian-American Relations

On the very eve of the pre-announced meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump in Paris on November 11, 2018, the US Treasury Department demonstratively introduced on November 8 a new package of so-called “Ukrainian” sanctions that directly affected the Russian Crimea. This was a clear and unambiguous signal from Washington that Trump either intends to talk with the Russian president solely from a position of strength, or is unwilling to have a full-fledged meeting with Vladimir Putin. However, already on November 5, a day before the midterm elections, Trump told reporters accompanying him on a campaign trip that Paris can hardly be considered the most suitable place for such meetings. “I don’t know that we’re seeing each other in Paris, but we may,” Trump said. “There may be a lunch for the leaders.” Most likely Trump and Putin will meet at the G20 summit in Argentina on November 30 – December 1, 2018. “We haven’t set anything up yet. We don’t know that that’s going to be the right place. I’m going to be in Paris for other reasons. But we will be meeting at the G20.”

The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Paris was of a strictly protocol nature; according to the Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov, both leaders agreed on the need to continue the Russian-American dialogue, primarily on the future of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). 

A possible long meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump was actively hampered by French President Emmanuel Macron, who did not want the events in Paris, dedicated to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the WWI end, to be reduced to a large number of bilateral meetings; the protocol of Paris events, meetings and conversations was compiled accordingly. 

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Deeply rooted domestic political processes in the US (the clash between old and new elites, the fierce opposition of the establishment and bureaucracy, bordering on sabotage, to any attempt to deviate from the foreign policy mainstream, and the use of Russia as a pawn in this conflict) as well as global trends (Washington's reluctance and inability to accept the reality of a multipolar world and Russia as an independent global centre), which in the near future will only get worse – all this guarantees that the confrontation between Moscow and Washington will continue for at least several more years. In fact, the worst is yet to come.

Thus, one can say that the Putin-Trump meeting was held in the spirit of the well-known medical principle “Do no harm.” In the current condition of relations between Russia and the United States, meetings between the leaders of the two nuclear superpowers first of all should not bring the Russian-American relations to an even greater deterioration, as it happened after the meetings in Hamburg in July 2017 and in Helsinki in July 2018. Anyway, some “optimists” and supporters of possible next meetings of the leaders of Russia and the United States are ready to use such loudly-sounding expressions as “breakthrough”, “turning point”, “historical”, “epochal”, etc. 

Nevertheless, it is likely that in the historical perspective the Paris meeting may turn out to be pivotal – in a sense that bilateral US-Russian relations will be replaced by multilateral relations based on the principles of “triangles”, “polygons” and other geopolitical figures of geometric shape. This was determined by the two factors that clearly manifested themselves in Paris on November 10-11. First, there are growing contradictions between the United States (more accurately, Trump’s America) and Europe (the EU) and, second, the momentous consequences for global geopolitics of the possible withdrawal of the United States from the INF Treaty, which Donald Trump first announced on October 20, 2018.

 After the Paris meetings the main attention in the United States was grabbed not by the Russian-American, but by the American-French relations, including the bilateral meeting of Emmanuel Macron and Donald Trump. In his keynote speech on the century-ago-events on the European soil, the French leader – allegedly on behalf of the entire EU – strongly criticized Trump’s nationalism. “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism: nationalism is betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said. However, France’s frontal attack against the United States was not limited to this: Macron “agreed” with Trump’s ultimatum on the need for a sharp increase in military spending for Europe to create its own armed forces. As Donald Trump noted in his Twitter, “President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!” 

Europe must protect itself from the United States – the Russian side could not ignore this and took advantage of this turn in the US-French relations. In an interview with RT, Vladimir Putin said that “Europe is, essentially, a powerful economic entity, a powerful economic union. And in general, it is rather natural for Europe to want to be independent, self-sufficient, sovereign in terms of its defense and security. I think that this process is, in general, positive, from the standpoint of strengthening the multipolarity of the world [emphasis added by the author]. In this sense, our position overlaps with the French one, too.” 

Thus, it turned out that in the conditions of the US planned exit from the INF Treaty, the Russian delegation also did not really strive to hold a full-scale meeting with the US president, assuming that this problem directly affects the interests of both Europe and China, which already has a relatively large arsenal of medium-range missiles. In fact, the US withdrawal from the INF Treaty almost automatically turns the bilateral Russian-US relations into multilateral ones with the participation of the EU (the “Russia-US-EU” triangle) and presumably China (the “Russia-US-EU-PRC” quadrangle). As a result, the emerging geopolitical reality has already led to the fact that, according to Politico, “President Donald Trump looked very much alone in Paris this weekend, isolated from European leaders and longtime U.S. allies as he continued to pursue his “America First” agenda.”

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.