Andrei Piontkovsky
Andrei Piontkovsky
Senior Adviser of Free Russia Foundation
A millstone around neck

The “presidential election” in Russia on March 18, 2018, is not going to resolve the issue of who is going to rule Russia. This is because this question is already being addressed.  It is not being done by one hundred million voters, but by the approximately one hundred members of the Russian kleptocracy’s expanded Politburo.

To be sure, Putin’s last name is on the short list compiled by influential government officials-come-businessmen. However, for the first time during the seventeen years of his rule, he is facing some complications.

The “elite” has developed a doubt in his ability to effectively perform over the next six years the function that is the most important one for this gang – interaction with the eternally hated and adored West. The failure of Putin’s neo-imperial exploits has become the greatest foreign policy defeat of the regime and lowered the Kremlin’s relations with its Western partners, who control the foreign assets of Russia’s rulers, to the worst possible condition.

An existential threat to the most valuable facet of life for the Russian rulers has emerged – not just to their holdings in the West, but to their whole life style in the West – their children’s education, medical services, vacations, well-being of wives and concubines, long happy life, organ transplants,  and their political and biological immortality can finally be assured with the billions robbed in Russia. All of this has been thrown into doubt by a single man, who through his adventurous braggadocio has ruined the business-based mutually advantageous relations of the Russian “elite” with the West.

In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron tormented Putin by putting him in his place and showed him how the leaders of the West will talk to the Kremlin from now on. Putin appeared weak, and as a result of the surprise, lost. It was clear that psychologically and physically he was diminished, which has only intensified the growing concerns of his entourage.

On July 7th in Hamburg, Putin went through what was possibly the most important casting session of his life. Not in front of the G20, of course, but in front of his own palace dwellers’ audience.  Putin desperately needed some kind of “victory”. It was important for him to show that he is involved in resolving critical world issues. Our dear Trump did not fail his friend Vladimir. He gave Putin his first “victory” back in Washington, where members of the cabinet discussed the format of the pending meeting – full format bilateral negotiations or an unexpected talk in the hallway next to a john.  The majority of the Secretaries gravitated towards the hallway option. Trump insisted on a 45-minute long negotiation with the participation of the Secretary of State and the Foreign Minister.

In reality, the meeting actually lasted for more than two hours. Trump started it with a meek admission. He said that to get acquainted with the global scale “fixer” Putin is a great honor for him, a modest provincial realtor. Apparently, an even greater honor for Trump was the creation of a joint counter- cyber terrorism commission together with the organizer of the hacking attacks on the USA. He called the results of the Big Two Summit with his daring ally in the fight against Islamic terrorism “tremendous”.

On that day, insane foreign policy talk shows on the Russian government’s TV channels broadcasted round-the-clock and flatteringly relished all the physiological details of the triumph of our dominant male. Propagandist talking head Vladimir Soloviev displayed a photo-shopped picture “Supplicants and Putin”.

Our faithful servant felt that he had managed to seize his fortune and had created the required impression for his colleagues, who were beginning to doubt him. Straight from Hamburg, he dashed to the Valaam Monastery to kiss an artifact that servile priests had supplied to him, which in the language of his PR people meant – our great chief has arrived at a fateful decision to ”run for office” again.However, this triumph of Putin’s would last only a few days. Once back in Washington, Trump ran into very harsh criticism of his behavior in the Putin meeting and faced new accusations of collusion with the Kremlin during the election campaign. “Why, oh why does Trump love Russia so much?” – is how Farid Zakaria titled his unprecedentedly hard-hitting column in the “Washington Post.” Its ending reflects the mood which is dominant in the American capital and which does not bode well for Trump:

“It is possible that there are benign explanations for all of this. Perhaps Trump just admires Putin as a leader.  Perhaps he has bought into the worldview of his senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon, in which Russia is not an ideological foe but a cultural friend, a white Christian country battling swarthy Muslims. But perhaps there is some other explanation for this fawning over Russia and its leader. This is the puzzle now at the heart of the Trump presidency that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will undoubtedly try to solve.” 

While Mueller is trying to unscramble this puzzle, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan announced on July 12th that a bill containing harsh sanctions against the Kremlin, which was adopted by the Senate on a vote of 97 to 2, will be presented to the House without any changes. Trump’s administration insisted on amendments in vain.  On July 25th, it was adopted by the House with a crushing majority of 417 to 3 (with additional language on North Korea). On the next day, leaders of both chambers agreed to send to the President’s desk the final text in a matter of days. The Senate did it on July 27th by a vote of 98 to 2. If Trump refuses to sign it would be for Trump a political suicide.

The domestic political victory for Putin that Trump granted him for undetermined reasons in Hamburg has turned-out to be a pyrrhic one. The simple fact that the President of the United States is not the Capo di tutt’i capi of criminal society, as is the case traditionally in Russia, and that even if his loyalty to Moscow could be achieved one way or another, it would still not be possible for Moscow to direct the American political system. This is something that does not fit into the minds in the Kremlin.

On the contrary, any step that Trump takes in Putin’s direction causes exactly the opposite reaction in Washington and immediately translates into absolutely concrete legislative actions.

Trump turned out to be not a Putin asset, but a millstone around Putin’s neck. Putin is also now a millstone around Trump’s neck. This has been the actual result of the large scale special operation “Trump is ours.” The conclusion, which was arrived at on July 7th by the Kleptocracy expanded Politburo – that the Boss is still handling it – once again turned out to be premature.

Very revealing in this sense is an article in the Washington Post about the measures against Putin’s Russia that were discussed within the Obama administration once the scale of the Kremlin’s involvement in the US election campaign became clear. None of the sanctions, aside from the confiscation of the two vacation complexes, were implemented. However, the list is very interesting. It impacts the most sensitive pressure points of the Russia “elite.” The list includes, specifically, publication of information on and freezing of all the accounts of the Russian domestic kleptocracy, starting with that of Putin, and visa bans. Obama didn’t dare to introduce these harsh measures. Today they are key articles of unanimously adopted bipartisan legislation.

In retrospect, it is clear what a tremendous error the Kremlin made in betting on Trump.  In fact, Mrs. Clinton’s presidency did not carry any kind of threat to the denizens of Kremlin. Today’s fierce anti-Putin position of the Democrats is the result of the domestic political situation. In reality, it is more anti-Trump than anti-Putin. Democrats feel that Putin is the president’s most vulnerable spot and that’s where they hit him without mercy. If Mrs. Clinton had come to power, most likely some new little “resetting [perezagruzka]” would have taken place. Now, all the bridges between Putin’s people and the American establishment have been burned.

 

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