Donald Trump has undertaken a dramatic initiative to put Putin in his place before it's too late. The tipping point was Russia's alleged nerve agent poisoning of ex-Russian citizen Sergei Skripal in London.
In response Trump's kicked out 60 Russian diplomats from the US and shut down that country's consulate in Seattle.
There have been two divergent reactions to that. Some are pleased that Trump has finally put Putin in his place. But others are concerned that he has set the US on a course that risks nuclear conflict with Russia.
I think there are good reasons to question the genuineness of Trump's motives.
First, Trump has long said he wants to get along with Putin, not alienate him. This goes way back to his campaign rhetoric. He recently reaffirmed that position.
Second, nobody, absolutely nobody, has produced any believable proof that Russia is to blame in the Skripal case. Maybe yes, maybe no. At this point nobody knows. The investigation has barely gotten underway. But yet there has been an irrational rush to judgment. Why the hurry?
Third, Trump's departure from his well-established policy to get along with Putin follows on the tail of a very bad week he's had. There's the interminably long Mueller probe into Trump's alleged collusion with Putin to beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Then there were two prominent national TV interviews. They were with women alleging hushed-up sexual affairs with Trump from years back.
Trump may have felt that things were closing in on him. Those salacious interviews may have been the straw that broke the camel's back. His attack on Putin came right on the heels of the latest compromising interview.
Think about it. Trump had a strong motivation to divert public attention away from his alleged misdeeds. His political opponents are using them to delegitimize his presidency, win control of the House of Representatives this year, and then impeach Trump.
But look what he's done in response.
He has become a conspirator in the UK Prime Minister Theresa May's illegal assault upon the Russian state. Here is a list of her and her country's transgressions.
--The UK has violated the spirit of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. That has involved:
--Expelling Russian diplomats explicitly based on allegations for which there is yet no substantiation.
--Indicting in the media both Russia and its president for the attempted murder of Skripal before any reasonable investigation could have been concluded.
--Refusing to share with Russia information that Moscow could use to investigate any possible culpability in the incident by anyone either on Russian soil or under Russian control.
These are my observations as a citizen of Switzerland. I am not a politician, but an established businessman of Swiss and Persian heritage. I steadfastly try to uphold the tradition of my country for neutrality and impartiality. But I have some inescapable concerns that I must share with you.
I'm old enough to remember Bill Clinton's Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. Clinton initiated military strikes against Iraq and Afghanistan at opportunistic times during the unfolding of the scandal. Polls show that a great many Americans believed the actions were timed to distract public attention from the public shaming of the president.
Unlike Clinton's engineered distractions, Trump's didn't result in considerable loss of life. But Tump's actions may turn out to be far worse for the whole world in the long run. His retaliation against Russia for yet unproven misdeeds amounts to no more than a provocation, plain and simple.
History tells us that world wars have been initiated not merely by dire circumstances, but by provocations. For World War I it was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo over a local struggle. That spun out of control to envelop great world powers in what came to be known as the "Great War."
A provocation was also alleged in the start of World War II. Many implicate a Nazi false-flag attack on a German radio station in Gleiwitz. Nazi operatives dressed in Polish uniforms allegedly attacked the site in order to bolster Hitler's rationale for invading Poland. World War II followed.
Now what are we to think of Theresa May's provocative and unsupported allegations against Russia in the Skripal case? What is her game plan in precipitously accusing Russia in the absence of substantiating facts?
I've already posited my suspicion regarding Trump's motives for joining in. What does he think he'll accomplish by expelling 60 Russian diplomats and ordering the closure of Russia's only West Coast consulate?
Clearly these provocations will lead to retaliation. There is a risk that things will spiral out of control. Is the UK Skripal Affair worth the risk of a direct nuclear confrontation between the US and Russia?
A likely place for this to play out is in Syria. Russia has valid national interests there. It is clear to most people that the US has valid interests in Germany, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, etc. But Russia's interests in Syria are too often minimized or ignored by the world community.
Now we are faced with both Russian and American military forces operating in Syria concurrently. Sometimes they exist at cross-purposes.
Moscow has hinted strongly and openly that great strife could be sparked by covert US military actions. Washington has been warned not to endanger Russian lives or to damage Russian military assets. Putin has threatened serious consequences.
The serious consequence that concerns me most is possible nuclear retaliation in some form by Russia. Russia has all the means to respond if attacked. The question is how far can Putin be pushed before he pushes the button.
Ironically, such a response would be within the realm of international law since Russia has issued clear warnings. It has drawn a red line that can never be crossed. It is the harming of Russian lives by US actions.
Russian officials have suggested that there will be tit-for-tat retaliation for Western diplomatic expulsions and other unjustified actions against it.
I fear that may not send a clear enough message, especially to Mrs. May. After all, it is she who has been the primary instrument of attack.
An unmistakable move by Moscow would be to send the UK's ambassador packing and order the closure of all UK diplomatic offices on Russian soil. That would constitute a message that would be hard to misunderstand.