Lawrence Solomon: Trump is right to warm to Putin. Russia, U.S. are more naturally friends than enemies

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Lawrence Solomon: Trump is right to warm to Putin. Russia, U.S. are more naturally friends than enemies
Published 12-02-2017, 18:17

Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is policy director with Probe International. LawrenceSolomon@nextcity.com Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .

President Trump wants to hit it off with Vladimir Putin, hoping to make Russia a friend of the United States. He’s right to try. Contrary to the common perception that Russia is a natural enemy of the U.S., Russia is a natural friend . There’s no reason to believe they can’t get along in future, and every reason to believe they can.

Aside from the decades that Russia was communist, no country over America’s long history has been a more faithful friend, particularly in times of need. Even before American independence, Russia under its great monarch, Catherine the Great, defied Britain by trading directly with the American colonies, in violation of the mercantile system Britain then imposed. During the American War of Independence, Russia — which had been an ally of Britain’s — refused British requests of military aid, choosing instead to finance the colonies through continued trade, to keep sea lanes open for navigation and to use its diplomatic leverage to help the colonies obtain a favourable peace.

During the American Civil War, when it looked like Britain or France might enter the war on the side of the Confederacy, Russia’s Czar Alexander II sent his Baltic and Pacific fleets to New York and San Francisco, along with instructions to their admirals to report to President Lincoln for duty should their presence in American harbours fail to dissuade the Europeans from entering the war.

Alexander II, like Catherine, had an affinity for the United States. The two countries had, in the words of his foreign minister, "a natural community of interests and of sympathies.” One such area of common interest was the civil rights of the populace, a sore in their body politic for decades. Alexander’s Emancipation Manifesto, which freed the serfs in 1861, preceded Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1865.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesSurrounded by aides, Donald Trump speaks on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office of the White House, Jan. 28, 2017.

Russia and America both fought on the same side in World War I and even in World War II, after Russia had become the Soviet Union and the struggle between the communist and capitalist ideologies made these countries enemies. No sooner had communism fallen in 1991, though, than the Russians immediately turned to the U.S. for guidance, rapidly privatizing much of the economy and holding democratic elections.

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The U.S. tends to blame today’s poor relations between the two countries on bad faith by the Russians, but the Russians, too, have reason to be leery. The post-communist privatizations that occurred under U.S. auspices became corrupt, creating a crony capitalist system of hated Russian oligarchs — multi-billionaires who overnight gained control over much of the Russian economy in the transition from communism to capitalism.

Russians resent the 2014 U.S.-engineered coup of the pro-Russian, democratically elected government of Ukraine and oppose the missile-defence systems the U.S. wants on Russia’s borders, purportedly to shoot down Iranian missiles but which one day could be turned toward Russia. Russians still remember that a century ago American troops occupied parts of eastern Russia for two years, partly to overthrow Russia’s revolutionary Communist regime. Russians also resent what they believe to be a more recent attempted overthrow, that of Putin by Hillary Clinton when she was Obama’s secretary of State. Putin has publicly suggested that the U.S. deployed hundreds of millions of dollars to engineer public protests following his 2011 election victory, in aid of delegitimizing his rule and ousting him from power.

Despite these Russian objections to Washington’s conduct, Russia nevertheless co-operates with the U.S., allowing American forces to use a Russian airbase in its war in Afghanistan and helping the U.S. with intelligence. Russia twice in 2011 warned the U.S. to be vigilant about the Tsarnaev brothers, who in 2013 executed the Boston Marathon bombing.

Trump won’t be the first president in recent times to believe he could win over Putin. "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy,” then president George W. Bush said in 2001 after meeting Putin. "I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.” Obama also attempted to bring the two countries together: As his secretary of state, Clinton had her famous "Russian reset” and Obama himself whispered to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that after his 2012 re-election he’d have more flexibility to work more constructively with Moscow.

Will Trump fare better than his predecessors in restoring a friendship with Russia? Putin and Trump are simpatico in many ways. Both see Islamic fundamentalism as a threat to their nation and would have no qualms in acting ruthlessly to root out the danger. Both are nationalistic rather than internationalistic, meaning neither would fear an inclination in the other to intrude in their sphere of interest. Both would want bilateral trade deals and have in Trump’s secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, a friend of Russia with a track record of negotiating successfully in Russia.

Trump and Putin, both politically incorrect straight-talkers, may also have the personal chemistry necessary to get along. Right from the start the warming in relations between the two should lead to an accelerated demise of ISIL. After which, there’s potential for the natural friendship between these two great nations to be fully restored.

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