The United States and the Russian question

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One of the peculiarities of the 2016 US presidential elections was that (like in the proverbial “banana republics”) neither of the two candidates would accept their defeat. Trump already announced this before Election Day, but without saying what he would do in the case of his defeat. As for Hillary Clinton, instead of blaming someone else for her defeat (for instance herself)[1], she decided to blame it on Vladimir Putin. In the meantime, a large part of the US political establishment has taken up this theme, so that “Russia-Gate” has become the principle instrument of opposition to the Trump administration within the American ruling class. As the world now knows, Trump's connections with Russia go back all the way to the year 1987, when Moscow was still the capital of the USSR and the “Empire of Evil” in the eyes of the USA. According to a recent documentary film shown on ZDF, the second state TV channel in Germany[2], it was Trump's Russian connection, not least his business links to the Russian underworld, which (possibly several times) rescued Trump from going bankrupt. At all events, the main idea of the investigations against Trump about Russia is that someone has become president of the United States who is dependent on the Kremlin, and is perhaps even being blackmailed by it. What is certainly true is that the new president has business and other connections there. Not only Trump, but many from the inner circle of power he gathered round him when he entered the White House, including Rex Tillerson, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Reince Priebus and Jeff Sessions. What is true above all is that the Trumpists wanted and still want to radically change the Russia policy of the United States, to make a “great deal” with Putin.

Here it is necessary to briefly recall the history of American-Russian relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In the heady days of the US “victory” in the Cold War, there was a strong feeling in the American ruling class that its former superpower rival could become a kind of subordinate state and above all a source of abundant profits, The first Russian president Boris Yeltsin relied on American (“neo-lib”) advisers in the process of converting the existing Stalinist system into a “market economy”. What resulted was an economic disaster. As for the US “expert” advisers, their main concern was to as much as possible get the fabulous raw material wealth of Russia under American control. The Yeltsin presidency (1991-1999) a mafia type government, was more or less ready to sell out the resources of the country to the highest bidder. The administration which succeeded it, that of Vladimir Putin, although it has excellent connections to the Russian underworld, soon proved to be a regime of a very different kind,  run by secret service officers determined to defend the independence of mother Russia, and to keep its wealth for themselves. It was Putin therefore who prevented the planned American takeover of the Russian economy. This serious loss corresponded to a more global decline in US authority, in which most of its former allies and even a number of secondary, dependent powers began to challenge the hegemony of the world’s only remaining superpower.

Ever since Putin’s ascendancy, the so-called Neo-Cons, the “conservative” and openly belligerent institutes and think-tanks in the United States, have been publically advocating “regime change” in Moscow. Once again, Russia under Putin became a kind of “Empire of Evil” for the war propaganda of US imperialism. Despite the abrupt change in the US policy of Russia under Putin, the American policy towards Russia remained, until 2014, basically the same. Its main axis was the military encirclement of the Russian Federation, first and foremost through the deployment of NATO ever closer to the heartlands of Russia. Through the integration of the former Baltic states of the USSR into NATO, the US military machine found itself surrounding the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, almost within marching distance of the suburbs of St Petersburg, the second city of Russia. However, when Washington offered NATO membership to two other former components of the Soviet Union – the Ukraine and Georgia - this was prevented by other NATO “partners”, in particular Germany, who realised that this step was likely to provoke some kind of military reaction by Moscow.

Instead, the western “partners” agreed on a more subtle procedure: the European Union offered the Ukraine a “free trade” agreement. But since the Ukraine already had a similar agreement with the Russian Federation, the consequence of the deal between Brussels and Kiev would be that European goods, via the Ukraine, could gain free access to Russia. Brussels however had deliberately excluded Moscow from its negotiations with Kiev. The reaction of Moscow to the deal between Brussels and Kiev therefore came promptly: the Ukraine would have to choose between a shared market with the EU, or one with Russia. A situation arose which led to an open confrontation between “pro-western” and “pro-Russian” forces in the Ukraine. In the wake of the massacre on the Maiden Square in Kiev (20.02.2014), president Viktor Janukovich was toppled and fled to Russia. At the time, the Grand Old Master of US diplomacy, Henry Kissinger, told CNN that regime change in Kiev was a kind of dress rehearsal for what would happen in Moscow[3]. But then something happened which nobody in Washington seems to have been expecting: a Russian military counter-offensive. Its three main components were the Moscow- backed separatist movement in the eastern Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimean peninsula on the Ukrainian Black Sea coast, and the military intervention of Russia in Syria. A new situation had arisen, in which the coherence and unity of the US policy towards Russia began to crumble.

Agreement could still be reached in Washington about the economic strangulation of Russia, seen as an adequate response to the counter-offensive of Moscow. The three pillars of this policy – still in place – are economic sanctions; hurting the Russian energy sector by keeping the price of oil and gas on the world market as low as possible; and the stepping up of the arms race with a Russia economically unable to keep the pace. But from 2014 on there was growing dissent about how America should respond to Russia at the military level. A hard line faction emerged, which was to give its support to Hillary Clinton at the 2016 presidential election. One of its representatives was the commander of NATO forces in Europe, Philip Breedlove. In November 2014 and again in March 2015 Breedlove spread what turned out to be the fake news that the Russian army had invaded the east of the Ukraine. It looked like an attempt to create a pretext for a NATO intervention in the Ukraine. The German government was so alarmed that both Chancellor Merkel and foreign minister Steinmeier condemned in public what they called the “dangerous propaganda” of the NATO commander[4]. Breedlove, evidently, was not breeding love, but war. According to the German review Cicero ((04.03.16) Breedlove also proposed to the US Congress to attack Kaliningrad, the Russian Port on the Baltic Sea, as an adequate response to Russian aggression further south. He was not the only one in such a mood. Associated Press reported that the Pentagon was considering the use of atomic weapons against Russia. And at a conference of the US Army Association in October 2016, American generals argued that a war with Russia, and even China, was “almost unavoidable”.[5]These pronouncements have been extreme, but they do show the ingrained strength of the “anti-Russian” position within US military circles.

Alarmed by this escalation, the last head of state of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, wrote a contribution for Time Magazine (27.01.17) entitled “It looks as if the world is preparing for war”, where he warned of the danger of a nuclear catastrophe in Europe. Gorbachev was reacting not least to an idea increasingly put forward by conservative think- tanks in the United States: that the risks imposed by a nuclear conflict with Russia have become calculable and can be “minimised” - at least for the United States. According to this “school of thought” such a conflict would not be declared, but would develop out of the present “hybrid war” (Breedlove) with Russia, where the distinctions between armed clashes, conventional warfare and nuclear war become blurred. It was in response to such “thinking aloud” in Washington that the Kremlin “assured” the world that the Russian nuclear second strike capacity was such, that not only Berlin but also Washington would be “razed to the ground” if NATO attacked Russia.[6]

In the face of this growing consideration of the military option against Russia, opposition developed not only within NATO, but also within the US ruling class. The NATO summit of September 2014 in Wales rejected proposals to intervene militarily in the Ukraine, and abandoned, at least for the moment, the idea of Kiev becoming a NATO member. And from that moment on, Barak Obama, as long as he was in office, while contributing to the modernisation of the Ukrainian armed forces, always rejected a direct American military engagement there. But the politically most important reaction within the US bourgeoisie to the situation with Russia was that of Donald Trump.

To understand how, in this context, a new position on policy towards Russia came to be formulated within the American bourgeoisie, it is important to keep in mind that Russia does not have the same significance for the United States as it had a quarter of a century ago, during the “honeymoon phase” between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin. At that time, the main goal of America's Russia policy was Russia itself, the control of its resources. Today American control of Russia would be more a means to a new end: the military encirclement of the new enemy No. 1, which is China. In this changed context, Donald Trump poses a very simple question to the rest of his class: If China is now our main enemy, why can't we try to win over Moscow for an alliance against China? Russia is neither the natural friend of China, nor the natural enemy of the United States.

The question which is of more interest to the “mainstream” of the US bourgeoisie (in particular the supporters of Hillary Clinton) at the moment, however, is a different one: did the Kremlin influence the outcome of the last US presidential elections? The answer to this question is in fact not difficult. Not only did Putin influence the election, he even helped to create the group within the US bourgeoisie open to making deals with Moscow. The principal means he used to this end was the most legitimate one possible in bourgeois society: the proposal of business deals. For example, the deal offered to Exxon Oil and its president Rex Tillerson – now US secretary of state (foreign minister) - is said to have been worth 500 billion dollars. We can thus understand how, after all the bourgeois talk in recent decades about fossil energy sources belonging to the past, there is a government in Washington today with a strong over-representation of the oil and even the coal industry: they are the part of the US economy to which Russia can offer the most.

Although Trump has apparently succeeded in convincing Henry Kissinger of his proposal (Kissinger has become an adviser of Trump and an advocate of “detente” with Russia) he is very far from having convinced the majority of his top brass opponents. One of the reasons for this is that what Dwight Eisenhower, in his farewell speech as president of the United States (17.02.1961) called the “military-industrial complex” feels threatened in its existence by a possible deal with Russia. This is because Russia, for the moment, continues to be the main justification for the maintenance of such a gigantic apparatus. Unlike Russia, China, at least for the moment, although it is an atomic power, has no comparable array of intercontinental nuclear rockets directly targeting the major cities of the United States.

[1] Her husband, ex- president Bill Clinton, was allegedly hopping mad about how incompetently her campaign had been managed

[2]ZDF Zoom: Gefährliche Verbindungen – Trump und seine Geschäftspartner (“Dangerous Connections – Trump and his Business Partners“) by Johannes Hano and Alexander Sarovic.

[3]Youtube 17.08.2015.

[4]Der Spiegel, 07.03.2015. “NATO Oberbefehlshaber Breedlove irritiert die Allierten”. (NATO Commander in Chief Irritates the Allies)

[5]Wolfgang Bittner: Die Eroberung Europas durch die USA (The Conquest of Europe by the USA), Page 151.

[6]YouTube 05.02.2015