Russian Reality Check: Trump Isn’t Obama

First and foremost Russian mischief in Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Crimea as well as the general intimidation of the European Union occurred because it could. That old saw about nature or in this case politics abhorring a vacuum was in play as Obama disengaged from difficult issues. During the eight years of the Obama Administration Putin knew that the American foreign policy environment was dominated by the ‘we refuse to learn the lessons of history’ foreign policy team. The consistent context of appeasement gave Vlad (can I call you Vlad?) the green light to get away with whatever he could manage to get away with; Vlad got away with a lot of stuff. He watched as Obama left Iraq to its own devices based on our refusal to drive a truck through the holes in the status of forces agreement that would have allowed us to negotiate a presence in Iraq that would have been a stabilizing force. But no! We get ISIS instead and years more of instability in Iraq and surrounding environs.

“Tell Vladimir I’ll have more flexibility after the election” is not collusion or appeasement or inappropriate Presidential behavior; the Trump congratulation on your election is! The application of double standards is getting to the point of being nearly unbearable to anyone with a sense of what intellectual or journalistic integrity should look like.

Russia, for years during the Obama administration blocked effort after effort to bring the Iranian nuclear program to heel. Veto after veto or the threat of a veto that derailed sanctions on Iran over the nuclear program. Vlad propped up Syria, got a militarized warm water port in Syria for his trouble, constructed nuclear plants in Iran, invaded Crimea and Ukraine, all allowed by Obama’s tender mercies.

Vlad, temporarily stymied at one point from running for President of Russia again ran his buddy Dimitri Medvedev and was, surprise, appointed Prime Minister until such time as he could run for President again; a distinction absent an iota of a difference. The Obama administration and their toadies in the media had nothing to say about sham elections as a reason to disengage from Russia. Putin remained the center of power and everyone, even Obama, knew that.

So now comes Trump, applying actual sanctions to Russia while attempting to maintain the idea that he believes he can negotiate a new relationship with Russia. Two things have to be in place over time for that to happen: continual economic and political pressure and the presence of a ‘relief valve’.

On a personal note regarding experience, I’ve been involved in a variety of significant negotiations and designed strategy for negotiations that covered an entire industry in a major U.S. city. In every case there was a ‘relief valve’. The ‘relief valve’ is the relationship or relationships that can keep the passions under control. It’s the place you go when things get a little crazy, which they often do. It is also the place where, when you’re getting to the end game, the deal is actually made.

The ‘relief valve’ is most often relationship based. An example; during one negotiation the chief negotiator told me (the senior executive) to not say anything about the negotiation in as many words as it took me to say nothing. His reasoning was that as I was respected by the involved parties I would be the eventual ‘relief valve’ should it be needed. According to the negotiator when the question came ‘what does Landreaux think’, he knew he had reached the point where a favorable deal was there to be had as the other side had essentially asked for the ‘relief valve’ to get involved, hopefully to their benefit.

Putin may fret about NATO expansion to his West but he knows no one is going to invade Russia from the West. The reality is that it would not be worth anyone’s time or effort to do so absent any additional aggressive moves by Putin. A threat from Putin’s East might be another story all together but that is a subject for a later time. There is no tangible military threat to Russia from the East and Putin knows that.

Trump by approving new sanctions and by letting Ambassador Haley go to town on the Russians in the Security Council, by accelerating American energy production and expanding the scope of the U.S. Military is delivering a significant message to Putin. Putin directing the 13th most significant economy on the planet, (just behind Indonesia) knows if pressed, he can’t keep up with the most dominant economy and military on the planet. Vlad, unlike Obama, should not ignore recent history and what it was that helped crash the Soviet Union.

It does not require personal excoriation to occur on the congratulatory phone call, a ‘relief valve’ does not engage in those types of behaviors, remembering that as often as not the ‘relief valve’ is where the deal finally gets done.

What will that deal be about? It will be about Vlad answering a singular question. How do you see your and Russia’s future? Do you see your future as being constantly involved with the Assads of the world with the radical Ayatollahs? Do you see your future as being under constant economic pressure and sanctions? Do you see yourself as being committed to the chimera of reconstituting the Soviet Union? Or, do you join the west in so far as it is possible in the context of your history and culture. That is the ‘relief valve’ question and the answer to that question can determine the focus of American and potentially European foreign policy and economic relationships with Russia.

Trump personally insisting that the opportunity to have favorable relationships with Russia is the ‘relief valve’. Vlad didn’t need one with Obama because there was never any pressure to release just more ‘flexibility’.