Trump Faces Massive Opposition to Improving US Relations with Russia

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Trump Faces Massive Opposition to Improving US Relations with Russia
Published 28-02-2017, 17:00

Martin Sieff

The author is a national columnist for the Post-Examiner online newspapers in the US and senior fellow of the American University in Moscow.

The forced firing of retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as US national security adviser after only two weeks in office is a significant blow to President Donald Trump’s stated aim of greatly improving relations between the United States and Russia.

The move gives a huge boost to the many opponents in Washington of any effort to defuse tensions with Moscow among the hawkish majorities of both the Republican and Democratic parties in Congress, especially in the US Senate.

It will also embolden Trump’s determined foes in both Congress and the American media to seek to embarrass and further undermine him by exposing any alleged examples of contact with the Russians that they can find.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday (February 15) that leading Senate Democrats had agreed to push for an extended investigation into all possible contacts that any Trump campaign official had before the November 8 election with Russian government figures.

The aim of such an investigation is clear: It is to try and destroy Trump’s very credibility as US president.

This is an extraordinarily dangerous game to blame. No such effort to delegitimize a new president right after he has taken office has ever occurred in US history.

At the very least, the broad efforts to attack, undermine and delegitimize Trump across the US political establishment will probably succeed in deterring him from making any move to lift economic sanctions on Russia.

Already, legislation is being prepared in the Senate supported by Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and Marco Rubio, all of them unsuccessful presidential candidates and bitter political enemies of Trump to try and impose a congressional veto over any effort by the president to use legitimate executive power to end the sanctions.

Indeed, in the current climate, any effort by Trump to lift the sanctions could trigger an all-out attempt to impeach him and remove him from office.

Russia has had far too much experience of empty rhetoric devoid of meaning and unsupported by any actions from previous US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama about "resets” or "new eras” in relations after both of them took office.

Less than six months after taking power, on June 15, 2001, Bush already announced as a priority foreign policy goal in a speech in Warsaw Poland that the United States had to pull the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and this was done.

Under Bush, the United States supported the so-called Orange Revolution in Ukraine and other "color” revolutions toppling established governments in other former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Barack Obama for all his talk of a "reset” in relations enthusiastically supported the violent toppling of the democratically elected government of Ukraine in February 2014 and its replacement with an extremist regime allied to gangs of neo-Nazi thugs in eastern Ukraine.

Obama also approved a NATO military buildup in Eastern Europe unprecedented in the history of the alliance.

To have any credibility in Moscow, Trump’s neo-détente policy would have to take concrete steps to reverse this dangerous and provocative military buildup. But if he does so, the super-hawks in Congress led by McCain, Rubio and Graham in his own party will go all-out in their attacks on him.

Trump even during his campaign promised to scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran. But Russia has close ties with Iran and would oppose any US efforts to re-impose economic sanctions on Tehran – especially if no move had been made to lift those still in effect against Moscow.

Nor would Russia risk straining its relations with Beijing which have bee stable and warm over the past two and more decades.

Russia genuinely wants improved relations with the United States, but the Russian list of demands before this can happen is very clear:

Trump would have to end and reverse the US military buildup in the NATO member-states of Central and Eastern Europe, especially the three Baltic States. He would also have to end US support for the current governments of Ukraine and Georgia. Economic sanctions on Russia would have to be lifted.

It is already very clear that Trump may not be allowed to do any of these things, however much personally he might wish to.

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