Sunday, May 14, 2017

Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance

Among the most bizarre images of Der Trumpenführer this past week was that of him laughing it up with Russian Foreirn minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office just hours after Trump fired FBI Director, James Comey.  Even more bizarre, American journalists were barred for the meeting while a Russian photographer were allowed entrance.  It's as if Trump wanted to rub his Russian ties in the face of every American who questions the agenda and goals of Vladimir Putin.  Especially, since Putin had requested the meeting and the photo op for his own aggrandizement. A piece in Politico looks at the strange and troubling meeting and Trump's apparent desires to promote Russia's interests at the likely experience of America.  Here are article excerpts:
When President Donald Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Oval Office on Wednesday just hours after firing the FBI director who was overseeing an investigation into whether Trump’s team colluded with the Russians, he was breaking with recent precedent at the specific request of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The chummy White House visit—photos of the president yukking it up with Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak were released by the Russian Foreign Ministry since no U.S. press was allowed to cover the visit—had been one of Putin’s asks in his recent phone call with Trump, and indeed the White House acknowledged this to me later Wednesday. “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to,” a White House spokesman said of Trump’s Lavrov meeting. “Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.”
The images of Trump putting his arm genially on Lavrov’s back—and a later White House official readout of the meeting that said Trump “emphasized his desire to build a better relationship between the United States and Russia”—couldn’t have come at a more fraught political moment for Trump, amid a barrage of bipartisan criticism of his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Lavrov was right where he has always wanted to be Wednesday: mocking the United States while being welcomed in the Oval Office by the president himself.
Russia’s longest-serving foreign minister of the post-Cold War era, Lavrov has worked alongside Putin since 2004 with a single-minded goal: to make Russia great again—and all the better if he could do so at America’s expense. So, for Lavrov and Putin, the scene was more than just a bizarre moment of Washington political theater in which they played walk-on roles. It was vindication, proof that their tilt toward Trump after years of tense dealings with two successive American presidents could yet pay off.
In some key respects, this already is a down payment on the Russian reset Trump promised on the campaign trail.
“For Lavrov, just having this meeting and the photo-op itself is a big demonstration to the world and to the Russian people that Russia is back, and that isolation has failed, irrespective of whether anything gets agreed,” said Alexander Vershbow, who served as ambassador to Russia under President George W. Bush and as a top Pentagon and NATO official with the Russia portfolio during Barack Obama’s presidency.
I’ve spent dozens of hours in recent years debriefing American officials about Lavrov, and they are united—Democrats and Republicans alike—in believing that the Russian foreign minister is both a) an ideologically flexible nationalist who is happy to engage in America-bashing when it suits his purposes and equally happy praising someone like Trump if necessary because b) his great value to Putin has been his world-class skills as a propagandist and purveyor of “fake news” on a par with Trump himself.
This is what John Negroponte, a Republican who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations when Lavrov was his Russian counterpart and then as Bush’s director of national intelligence, told me back in 2013: “His two objectives were always the same: Veto things for the greater glory of Russia and to take the Americans down wherever possible.”
[I]f Trump does not have a Russia policy, Putin certainly has a U.S. policy, these experts believe, with priorities that include getting Trump to go along with Putin’s plan for some sort of settlement to the long-running Syria civil war that leaves Russia and its client the Assad regime with control over at least a significant chunk of Syria’s territory. On Ukraine, given that lifting the sanctions against Russia imposed after its takeover of Crimea appears to be a nonstarter on Capitol Hill, Putin seems to be willing to play for time.
Inside Trump’s fledgling administration, all this comes as there are still few top officials who have been appointed to take charge of the Russia portfolio.
Both Trump and Putin, as one of the Russia hands told me, are experts at spinning alternate realities. But will they try to spin each other? How can you get along and really forge a working partnership, he wondered, when for each, “their attachment to the truth is so tenuous”?

No comments: