It was a dizzying week in international politics, with President Trump first dissing our democratic partners in the G7 alliance and our military allies in NATO, then publicly shaming the prime minister of Great Britain, and finally taking sides with Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own national security apparatus on the issue of interference in the 2016 election — targeted, state-sponsored cyber meddling which appears to still be at play in the upcoming midterm elections.
The president’s outright dismissal of Russian tampering, in an election which Trump did not fail to remind he legitimately won, caused outrage among even his most slavishly loyal Republican allies in both houses of Congress. That’s because it wasn’t that long ago that the Russians were our mortal enemies, first as the Soviet Union and then the democratic Russian Federation following the fall of the USSR in 1991.
This perception of the Federation being a kleptocracy, where billionaire oligarchs rule like mafia dons, blossomed under Putin, a former lieutenant colonel with the KGB, the intelligence agency of the communist regime.
Today, Putin is starting his fourth term as president, He was first elected in 2000 and again in 2004. In 2008 he was appointed prime minister by his former prime minister and presidential replacement Dmitry Medvedev (in what came to be known as a tandemocracy or diarchy) until 2012, when Putin won a third term as president. The previous year, presidential terms were extended from four to six years, and having won re-election in March, Putin will mark 20 years as president in 2024.
Certainly under Putin’s regime, one in which he is viewed as the chief kleptocrat, the Tony Soprano of Russian politics, few American policymakers have viewed Russia as a viable economic or military partner, as President Trump seems to believe is possible.
But while some suspect that some type of personal enrichment or other foul play on Trump’s part is afoot in the president’s overtures to Putin, others say something is better than nothing. That’s primarily because both countries — now with Russia moving further away from its once democratic form of government and Trump shamelessly kowtowing to a virtual dictator known for killing journalists and political opponents — are still pointing nuclear weapons at one another. One wrong move by either side, for whatever reason, could mean the end of civilization as we know it.
Presently, of the eight nations possessing nuclear arms, the US and Russia control 13,400 of 14,290 — 90 percent — of those weapons, according to the Arms Control Association (armscontrol.org).
In an open letter published last week, The Nation magazine pleaded with leaders of both countries to find “Common Ground,” the title of the missive.
“Whatever the truth of varied charges that Russia interfered with the election, there should be no doubt that America’s digital-age infrastructure for the electoral process is in urgent need of protection,” states the letter, signed by such figures as the Rev. William Barber II; author and activist Noam Chomsky; former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean; feminist and author Gloria Steinem; Nobel Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen; writer and national coordinator of RootsAction.org Norman Solomon; former Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder; and former US ambassador to the UN and former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson.
There is no question, the letter continues, “We must fortify our election system against unlawful intrusions as well as official policies of voter suppression. … At the same time, the US and Russian governments show numerous signs of being on a collision course. Diplomacy has given way to hostility and reciprocal consular expulsions, along with dozens of near-miss military encounters in Syria and in skies above Europe. Both sides are plunging ahead with major new weapons-development programs.”
Just one day prior to Trump’s arrival in Helsinki, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office announced 12 Russian military intelligence personnel had been indicted in connection with election tampering in 2016, an alleged attack that some have said could be construed as an act of war.
“The United States should implement a pronounced shift in its approach toward Russia. … Concrete steps can and must be taken to ease tensions between the nuclear superpowers,” the letter concludes.
One of the reasons why Sam Husseini, a contributor to The Nation, said he attended the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki last week was to ask questions about what is being done by the two leaders to curb the threat to humanity posed by the nuclear weapons they possess.
“Instead, I was dragged out of their press conference before it even began and into a Finnish jail,” Husseini, a senior analyst with the Institute for Public Accuracy, wrote in an article for The Nation.
Whatever happens in the Justice Department’s investigation of election tampering in 2016, let’s hope relations between the two superpowers do not degenerate to the point that answers to Hussein’s questions would be rendered moot by nuclear war.