One of the strongest voices in the American media warning about the enigmatic collusion between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has been Garry Kasparov, a young Russian chess grandmaster who became World Chess Champion in 1985 at age 22. He retired from chess competition in 2005 and has devoted himself to helping form a civil political opposition in Russia, even attempting to run for president against Putin in a bid that was blocked by official obstruction.
Below are three brief excepts from Winter is Coming, published by PublicAffairs,followed by a link to a fuller excerpt, used by permission of the author:
As I have said for years, it is a waste of time to attempt to discern deep strategy in Mr. Putin’s actions. There are no complex national interests in his calculations. There are only personal interests, the interests of those close to him who keep him in power, and how best to consolidate that power. Without real elections or a free media, the only way a dictator can communicate with his subjects is through propaganda and the only way he can validate his power is with regular shows of force…
But blaming Putin for invading Ukraine — for annexing Crimea, for giving advanced surface-to-air missiles to separatists — is like blaming that proverbial scorpion for stinging the frog. It is expected. It is his nature. Instead of worrying about how to change the scorpion’s nature or, even worse, how best to appease it, we must focus on how the civilized world can contain the dangerous creature before more innocents die…
As always when it comes to stopping dictators, with every delay the price goes up. Western leaders have protested over the potential costs of action in Ukraine at every turn only to be faced with the well-established historical fact that the real costs of inaction are always even higher. Now the only options left are risky and difficult, and yet they must be tried. The best reason for acting to stop Putin today is brutally simple: it will only get harder tomorrow.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin may not literally be on the U.S. presidential ticket, but he was on stage over and over in Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate. Democrat Tim Kaine raised the issue of Donald Trump’s praise for Putin early on, and questioned whether Trump’s tax returns would reveal compromising business interests tied to Russia.
Throughout the debate, Kaine challenged Republican Mike Pence to defend Trump’s words on Putin, as well as other policy positions. Pence didn’t do it.
Instead, Pence sidestepped the Putin-Trump connection, choosing to reinforce traditional Republican Party foreign policy values. He even vowed that a President Trump would show “strength” in response to an aggressive Russia. Here are highlights from the debate on the critical foreign policy and national security issues we’re watching at putintrump.org.
Kaine: Hillary Clinton has gone toe-to-toe with Russia. … She went toe-to-toe with Russia and lodged protests when they went into Georgia. And we’ve done the same thing about Ukraine, but more than launching protests, we’ve put punishing economic sanctions on Russia that we need to continue.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, didn’t know that Russia had invaded the Crimea.
Pence: Oh, that’s nonsense.
What the record shows: In August, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?”
What was said in the debate:
Kaine: … Donald Trump’s claim … that NATO is obsolete and that we need to get rid of NATO is so dangerous.
Pence: That’s not his plan.
What the record shows: Trump has criticized the 28-nation-strong North Atlantic Treaty Organization for months, telling The New York Times in July that he was “prepared to walk” away from treaties like NATO if other nations didn’t increase their payments – a position that is very much in Putin’s interests. Pence contradicted Trump in July, and by the first presidential debate, Trump was changing his tune and saying he was “all for NATO.”
HARD LINE OR SOFT LINE ON PUTIN?
What was said in the debate:
Kaine brought up Trump’s praise for Putin over and over, to which Pence muttered “Oh, come on.” When Pence finally mentioned Putin directly, his words were in sharp contrast to his running mate’s:
Pence: And the small and bullying leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America — the greatest nation on Earth – just withdraws from talks about a cease-fire while Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense system in Syria …. We’ve just got to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they’re dealing with a strong American president.
What the record shows: Trump’s flattery for Putin is well-documented. On Pence’s point specifically – that Trump would be a tougher on Russia – Trump said exactly the opposite in his July 28 news conference: “Why do I have to get tough on Putin? I don’t know anything other than that he doesn’t respect our country.”
So, how did Pence do?
Even as he contradicted Trump’s words on Putin’s interests, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza notes that Pence looked extremely comfortable in the debate spotlight, perhaps making a case for himself as a GOP presidential contender in 2020 or 2024. “Win or lose in 24 days, Pence did himself real good in the eyes of the Republican world on Tuesday night.’
Trump and Clinton face off again Sunday, Oct. 9 – this time in a town-hall-style debate. Will Trump attempt to back away from more of his pro-Russian statements, as he did with NATO in the first debate? We’ll be watching.
Because Donald Trump’s campaign brand is based on his saying whatever he wants whenever he wants, regardless of facts, he changes his tune with abandon. This was clear in the first presidential debate when 84 million viewers saw him get outfoxed by a more fact-based opponent.
Switching positions or softening rhetoric is a hallmark of Trump’s campaign. As NBC has pointed out, he mixes facts with exaggerations and outright falsehoods so many times it’s hard to keep track. NBC created a list that “features 124 distinct policy shifts on 20 major issues, tracking only his stated views since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.”
Perhaps nowhere is this all-over-the-map style more troubling than in Trump’s statements about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which he has repeatedly denigrated in interviews. During the debate, however, he seemed to make a U-turn on support for NATO – at first repeating his notion that America’s bedrock alliance might be “obsolete.” Later, he shifted, saying he is “all for NATO,” much to the relief, if not the continued confusion, of U.S. allies in Europe.
In contrast, Hillary Clinton said, “ I want to assure our allies that we have mutual defense treaties. The U.S. would honor its commitments to U.S. treaties and allies.”
Trump has said America’s NATO allies have to meet a 2 percent GDP threshold for defense spending, or he suggested the U.S. might not come to their aid when attacked, and he alluded to this again during the debate. (NATO’s Article V says an attack against one member is an attack against all, and members have an obligation to defend each NATO member whatever their level of defense spending).
Trump’s skepticism about NATO and his reversals have raised alarms in the former Eastern Europe, countries that border an increasingly aggressive Russian Federation. Trump’s remarks are “both dangerous and irresponsible,” said Ojars Kalnins, who chairs the foreign affairs committee in Latvia’s parliament. “This won’t be good for NATO unity or the security situation. In principle, he is saying the U.S. will not fulfill its promises or obligations.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reacted to Trump’s comments in the first debate, telling the Wall Street Journal (paywall): “NATO has played a key role in the fight against terrorism for many, many years,” despite Trump’s criticism that such action only came after Trump raised this issue. “To share intelligence among allies is one of the tools we use in the fight against terror,” Stoltenberg said. “But this is something planned and discussed for along time and is not a result of the U.S. election campaign.”
Republican stalwarts like former Virginia Senator John Warner – a World War II veteran and past chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee – are deeply concerned that the next president “have a very firm and fundamental understanding” about America’s responsibilities in the world. “We are, like it or not, the leader of the free world,” Warner, who has endorsed Clinton, was quoted as saying in the Washington Post. “You don’t pull up a quick text like National Security for Dummies …”
“When I recall what the opponent [Trump] has said about the military, I shake my head,” Warner said, recalling the placard on the wall in Marine boot camp in 1945: “Loose lips sink ships. Got that Trump? Loose lips sink ships.”
Trump’s Loose Lips can undermine alliances, frighten allies and embolden adversaries. It is worth noting that even with all of his many policy reversals, Trump continues to be a staunch admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he has throughout his campaign. That bromance and his business dealings in Russia are despite Putin’s recent aggressive military and political activity: annexing the Crimea, bombing in Syria, and threatening to take over more of the Ukraine. Are the Baltic States next?
No, NATO is not obsolete. And a strategic alliance is more than a business deal.
The U.S. election is still 76 days away, but the Trump-Clinton race has become summer’s “must-see TV” in both Russia and Ukraine – and Trump’s campaign is actually having a tangible effect on the ground in both countries, Politico reports:
In short, the rhetoric in the U.S. election campaign – especially Trump’s – is already altering policy in the region, hardening Moscow’s attitude toward Ukraine and at the same time frustrating and confusing the Ukrainians who want to stand up to Putin. This is partly because the U.S. campaign is happening against the backdrop of rising tensions between Kiev and Moscow. Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko put his army on combat alert after Putin accused him of sending “saboteurs” into Crimea. State television showed footage of the Russians capturing the suspects under a full moon. Russian intelligence claimed that the Ukrainian military had killed a Russian officer and soldier. Kiev called the allegation “a fantasy.” …
Many Ukrainians, torn by their own political scandals and conflicts, say they’re shaken by the level of discourse in the United States, whose democracy many Ukrainian revolutionaries once saw as their compass. The GOP nominee’s laissez-faire attitude toward Ukraine’s future is a particular contrast to the two previous Republican standard-bearers, Mitt Romney and John McCain, both of whom made strident statements in support of Ukraine’s independence and opposed Putin’s aggression.
And on Russian state television, twists and turns in the U.S. campaign are reported through a “pro-Trump lens”:
Every new Trump attack on President Barack Obama or Clinton is also regularly broadcast, as if the state media wants to say, “See, did we not tell you exactly that for years?” Trump’s latest attack line—that Obama created ISIS—is especially popular in Putin’s Russia, where the state-controlled media would have you believe that Russia’s brave leader is alone in fighting malign forces in Syria.
Donald Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin, and Putin’s clear preference for Trump in the U.S. Presidential election, is setting off alarms with American voters of Eastern European ancestry, according to the Washington Post. This is especially critical in and around Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Detroit and all of Wisconsin, areas Trump needs to win. Voters there and elsewhere are worried, the Post says, because:
Trump has suggested that America will only conditionally live up to its obligations under the NATO charter and questioned the value of the alliance.
He’s said he’ll look into whether Putin should be allowed to keep Crimea, which he annexed with complete disregard for international law. “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said this month.
Just three weeks ago, Trump pleaded directly with the Russian government to find and release tens of thousands of Clinton’s private emails. Asked whether Russian espionage into the former secretary of state’s correspondence would concern him, he replied: “No, it gives me no pause.”
At the Republican National Convention last month, the Trump campaign stripped the party platform of language calling for the United States to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine to resist Russian belligerence.
Paul Manafort has resigned as Trump’s Campaign Chairman after a staff shakeup. That may be because of an Aug. 14 The New York Times investigation linking Manafort to undisclosed cash payments of nearly $13 million from the pro-Russian political group, the Party of Regions, in the Ukraine. Manafort was a consultant for former Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych for five years before he was ousted from power and fled to Russia. The payments came to light through an investigation by Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Manafort later denied ever receiving any off-the-books cash payments or having ever worked for the Ukraine or Russian governments. The Times reports:
Handwritten ledgers show $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort from Mr. Yanukovych’s pro-Russian political party from 2007 to 2012, according to Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Investigators assert that the disbursements were part of an illegal off-the-books system whose recipients also included election officials.
In addition, criminal prosecutors are investigating a group of offshore shell companies that helped members of Mr. Yanukovych’s inner circle finance their lavish lifestyles, including a palatialpresidential residence with a private zoo, golf course and tennis court. Among the hundreds of murky transactions these companies engaged in was an $18 million deal to sell Ukrainian cable television assets to a partnership put together by Mr. Manafort and a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of PresidentVladimir V. Putin. …
“He understood what was happening in Ukraine,” said Vitaliy Kasko, a former senior official with the general prosecutor’s office in Kiev. “It would have to be clear to any reasonable person that the Yanukovych clan, when it came to power, was engaged in corruption.”
The Associated Press unearths more details about the trail of Russian money linked to Trump‘s now former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort in a story revealing Manafort assisted Ukraine’s pro-Russia governing party in funneling money to two Washington lobbyist firms via a nonprofit organization. This path sidestepped U.S. Justice Department rules requiring lobbyists to disclose that they represent foreign leaders or political parties. The AP reports:
Manafort and business associate Rick Gates, another top strategist in Trump’s campaign, were working in 2012 on behalf of the political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych.
People with direct knowledge of Gates’ work said that, during the period when Gates and Manafort were consultants to the Ukraine president’s political party, Gates was also helping steer the advocacy work done by a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit that hired a pair of Washington lobbying firms, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC.
The nonprofit, the newly created European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, was governed by a board that initially included parliament members from Yanukovych’s party. The nonprofit subsequently paid at least $2.2 million to the lobbying firms to advocate positions generally in line with those of Yanukovych’s government.
That lobbying included downplaying the necessity of a congressional resolution meant to pressure the Ukrainian leader to release an imprisoned political rival.
The lobbying firms continued the work until shortly after Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014, during a popular revolt prompted in part by his government’s crackdown on protesters and close ties to Russia. …
Gates told the AP that he and Manafort introduced the lobbying firms to the European Centre nonprofit and occasionally consulted with the firms on Ukrainian politics. He called the actions lawful…
Did you know that a number of Trump’s top advisers, past and present, have strong ties to Russia’s elite?
Michael Caputo, former adviser: Contracted to improve Putin’s image in 2000
Carter Page, former adviser: Ran the Moscow branch of Merrill Lynch, which included advising Russian energy giant Gazprom.
Paul Manafort, now former Campaign Chairman and Convention Manager
2005 : Manafort was officially hired as an adviser for Rinat Akhmetov, one of the Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen.
2006 : Akhmetov introduces Manafort to Viktor Yanukovych, to be hired as an election campaign adviser (2007-2012). As consultant for Ukraine’s pro-Russian ruling political party, Manafort’s name was listed on secret records showing he received $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments, according to the New York Times.
In those 5 years, Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the U.S. Justice Department. A requirement to “insure that the U.S. Government and the people of the United States are informed of the source of information (propaganda) and the identity of persons attempting to influence U.S. public opinion, policy, and laws.”
Trump used to stand for a harsher watch on Russia in Ukraine, but after Manafort stepped in, he changed his opinion of Crimea and Putin’s occupation. The campaign alsochanged the GOP party platform removing language that had called for arming Ukraine against further Russian incursions. The gutting of this platform plank is contrary to the view of most GOP foreign policy leaders.