At the risk of being labeled a “Putinite” or espousing a “Putinesque” argument, the reality is that Vladimir Putin is the leader of Russia. It is also a fact that he will win another six-year term as leader of Russia meaning the United States will have to deal with him through 2024. Suffice to say, whoever wins the Presidency in 2020 will have to deal with Putin at the helm in Russia.
This writer has no doubts that Putin will call it quits in 2024, although he may be grooming the next Putin to carry on his policies. Of course, there are some here and elsewhere- the Trump-deranged- who subscribe to the “bromance” theory of geopolitics and likely believe that Donald Trump is preparing a nice suite for his good friend Vlad at Mar-a-Lago as we speak. These are the people who take Trump’s statements on the campaign trail regarding Putin and Russia and make that quantum leap in logic that Trump is in the back pocket of Putin. Some base it on campaign rhetoric; others base it on disputed opposition research dossiers.
On many levels- diplomatically, militarily, economically- Russia does not hold a candle to the United States and Putin knows this. Most of his dalliance in the affairs of other countries whether through election interference, annexation, saber-rattling, or stealth occupation is done with one motive in mind: it plays to his domestic audience. As long as he portrays himself as the savior of all things Russian first, and the savior of Western civilization second, he comes out the winner in the hearts and minds of Russians everywhere.
Whoever wins the election in 2020 will have to deal with Putin with the key word being “deal.” It serves no purpose to disengage from the leader of a large country like Russia. That is a victory for the very person you want to defeat. Likewise, it makes no sense to tie the hands of any President in dealing with Russia and Putin.
It is certainly true that Congress has a role to play through their funding and oversight duties. But, it is also certainly true that the President is primarily in charge of foreign policy. There will be times when the two will cross paths at international gatherings and rest assured there will be a microscope on those meetings with the inevitable leaks or, more likely, childish conjecture on what was discussed.
Instead, the Trump-deranged/bromance theorists would have the United States simply ignore or disengage from the reality of Russia and Putin. Just as one cannot ignore the Lilliputian leader of North Korea- a two-bit player on the international stage- neither can we nor should we ignore Putin and Russia. But, that is exactly what the detractors seem to envision. And that is a dangerous proposition.
There are areas where the interests of the United States and Russia intersect. Despite the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, the political quagmire in Syria still exists. The war against terrorism is an area where cooperation between the two countries is vitally important. With many terrorists returning to former Muslim-majority former Soviet states, the Russian intelligence infrastructure in those areas can help thwart attacks here and in Europe. Another important area is nuclear non-proliferation. And the list could go on: the emergence of China as an economic and military power, international finance, energy and others.
Although there may be differences between the two countries, there is also considerable room for cooperation. But, it serves no good purpose to tie the hands of the person responsible for foreign policy in dealing with Russia whether that person is named Donald Trump or anyone else.
Putin and Russia are facts of international life. Ignoring or shunning them has more serious drawbacks than engaging them. The United States can and should engage them and they can do so without sacrificing principles. Thus far, Trump’s actions in office hardly prove him to be a puppet of Putin, as some have claimed, nor has he been duped by Putin or become a KGB asset (note to those who haven’t kept up: there is no KGB).
It is time for the silly conspiracy theorists, the Trump deranged, purveyors of the collusion theory, and the bromance armchair geopoliticians to get their heads out of the sand and look at the world realistically. Putin is not swayed by the nice words of Trump nor is he swayed by the imposition of sanctions by Congress. Putin will continue to act in a way he believes is in the best interests of Russia.
While it may be true, as some people have said (usually in full caps) that Russia is not our friend, neither are they our enemy in the traditional sense and, quite frankly, the last time they were “our friend,” we gained Alaska. And yes- Putin is a thug ruler who imprisons dissidents and kills journalists, but at the height of the Cold War when more dissidents were imprisoned in Russia and more journalists were silenced by the Soviet leadership, we still engaged Russia. Putin’s sins, although bad, pale in comparison to those of Soviet Russia.
We have worked with despotic rulers before; it is the nature of international politics. The detractors would now want us to rise to some mythical higher standard because of one thing: Trump. The last time we based a foreign policy around human rights was Jimmy Carter and that ended disastrously. Trump’s actions, not his words, thus far have proven the opposite of those alleged by his detractors, especially with regards to the Ukraine. It is time to face reality: Donald Trump is President of the United States and Vladimir Putin is the leader of Russia. No amount of detraction or denial is going to change those facts.