Italian Parties Putin-Friendly, But Policy Shift Unlikely

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni and Russian president Vladimir Putin attend a conference in Sochi, May 17, 2017
Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni and Russian president Vladimir Putin attend a conference in Sochi, May 17, 2017 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italy’s election can’t keep Vladimir Putin up at night. No matter which party comes out on top, the Russian leader can expect a friendly government in Rome.

  • The center-left Democrats may be the least Russophile of the four major parties, but they still have a soft spot for Russia. Their leader, Matteo Renzi, threatened to block the renewal of EU sanctions in 2015. Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign-policy coordinator, has been criticized by Eastern Europeans and NGOs for not taking a hard enough line against Russia.
  • Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister and leader of Forza Italia, is on famously good terms with Putin.
  • His allies in the Northern League — who, in turn, ally with Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France — are openly sympathetic of Putin, whom they see as a defender of traditional, Christian values.
  • The populist Five Star Movement no longer wants to take Italy out of NATO but still calls for a reduced role in the alliance as well as an immediate end to sanctions. Read more “Italian Parties Putin-Friendly, But Policy Shift Unlikely”

This New Cold War Is Ideological Too

Moscow Russia
The sun rises over the Red Gate Building in Moscow, Russia (Unsplash/Jean Colet)

Because Russia promotes an agenda that is native to Europe, few seem to realize this Second Cold War is just as ideological as the first.

If anything, the fact that Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine can tap into a homegrown Western reactionary movement that shares its beliefs makes the ideological challenge he poses more insidious. Read more “This New Cold War Is Ideological Too”

China and Russia: True Love or Marriage of Convenience?

Vladimir Putin Xi Jinping
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China meet on the sidelines of a summit in Benaulim, India, October 15, 2016 (Kremlin)

China and Russia are making common cause at a time when Donald Trump’s America is turning its back on the world. Are we seeing the beginning of a global partnership? Or is this only a marriage of convenience? Experts disagree. Read more “China and Russia: True Love or Marriage of Convenience?”

Russians Were All Over Trump’s Campaign

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

Back in March, I wondered if anybody in Donald Trump’s inner circle wasn’t in touch with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The answer, we know now, is no. The Russians were all over Trump’s team.

Whether this was collusion or a case of collective and massive misjudgment is something Robert Mueller, the special counsel, must find out, but clearly the Russians were trying to influence the outcome of the election.

The fact that none of Trump’s underlings disclosed their Russian contacts, and when first asked about them lied, suggests they knew they were doing something wrong. Read more “Russians Were All Over Trump’s Campaign”

Trump Cedes Initiative to China and Russia

Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China observe a military ceremony in Shanghai, May 20, 2014
Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and Xi Jinping of China observe a military ceremony in Shanghai, May 20, 2014 (Kremlin)
  • Edward Luce argues in the Financial Times that Donald Trump is allowing China to take the lead in artificial intelligence and robotics. Whereas Trump is sabotaging his own country’s edge by proposing to cut investment spending, reduce visas for high-skilled migrants and pulling out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, China is spending generously, drawing in foreign talent and developing its “One Belt and One Road” trade initiative.
  • Michael Crowley reports for Politico that Trump is ceding postwar planning in Syria to Vladimir Putin, allowing not only Russia but Iran to maintain a foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean. The effect: Egypt and Turkey, once bulwarks of American influence in the Middle East, are eying an entente with Moscow.

Don’t Exaggerate Russian Meddling in the Catalan Independence Crisis

Barcelona Spain
Night falls on Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya, Spain, September 11 (Sergio Marchi)

Spanish media exaggerate Russia’s role in the Catalan independence crisis.

Russian state media, like RT and Sputnik, and Russia-friendly trolls, like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, have predictably sought to exploit the crisis in a major European Union and NATO country, for three reasons:

  1. To encouraging Catalan separatism.
  2. To provoking an overreaction from the Spanish right.
  3. To legitimizing the self-determination referendum it organized in the Crimea in 2014.

But there is little evidence Russian propaganda has changed anyone’s mind. Read more “Don’t Exaggerate Russian Meddling in the Catalan Independence Crisis”

Trump Accepts Putin’s Denials of Election Interference

Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, February 27, 2015 (Gage Skidmore)

America’s spy agencies are unanimous in their assessment that Russia tried to sabotage the 2016 election. Yet Donald Trump puts more faith in the word of Vladimir Putin.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that’,” Trump told reporters after meeting with the Russian president on the sidelines of a summit in Vietnam, “and I really believe that, when he tells me that, he means it.” Read more “Trump Accepts Putin’s Denials of Election Interference”

So Much for Yet Another Russian Reset

The flag of the Russian Federation
The flag of the Russian Federation (Amanda Graham)

From Reuters:

US president Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law on Wednesday new sanctions against Russia that Congress had approved overwhelmingly last week, criticizing the legislation as having “clearly unconstitutional” elements.

Ever since the United States entered the stage as a world power, it’s brushed up against Russia. From the 1918-20 international intervention that halfheartedly tried to prevent the rise of Soviet communism to this latest American sanctions bill, the US has long hoped to turn Russia into yet another reliable ally, joined together in a liberal order of peace and prosperity.

That geopolitical naivety is deeply embedded in the American body politic: candidate after candidate has hoped to defang the Russian bear with arms outreached, only to discover that Moscow sees not friendship but subjugation.

It is a relationship between an idealistic, extremely safe nation state and a cynical, deeply insecure one. One finds every betrayal or turnabout shocking; the other sees them as a natural course of events. Read more “So Much for Yet Another Russian Reset”

Putin Has Already Got Most of What He Wanted from Trump

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers a question from a reporter in Moscow as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, April 8, 2015
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras answers a question from a reporter in Moscow as Russian president Vladimir Putin looks on, April 8, 2015 (Kremlin)

Collusion or not, Vladimir Putin has already got most of what he wanted from Donald Trump.

As Rachel Maddow reported on MSNBC last night:

  • Russia wants the West divided, not united.
  • It wants to be recognized as an equal partner to the United States in the war in Syria.
  • It wants to keep Bashar Assad in power.
  • It seeks to defang American diplomacy.
  • And it wants back the “diplomatic” (spy) compounds in Maryland and Upstate New York the Obama Administration seized in retaliation for Russia’s attack on the 2016 election.

Trump has given Putin all this. Read more “Putin Has Already Got Most of What He Wanted from Trump”

Mixed Success for Trump at the G20 on Syria and Trade

American president Donald Trump speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 6
American president Donald Trump speaks with German chancellor Angela Merkel at the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 6 (Bundesregierung)

The G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany has been a mixed success for American president Donald Trump.

On Syria:

  • On the one hand, Trump negotiated a ceasefire for southwestern Syria with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin. American-backed rebels have been fighting the Russian-backed regime of Bashar Assad there.
  • On the other hand, he didn’t elicit Russia’s support for the war against the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which is Trump’s priority.

On trade:

  • On the one hand, G20 leaders conditioned open markets on “reciprocal and mutually advantageous trade” in their summit declaration and recognized the role of “legitimate trade defense instruments” — a political victory for Trump.
  • On the other hand, a threat from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to retaliate with EU trade sanctions appears to have persuaded Trump not to raise tariffs on steel. Read more “Mixed Success for Trump at the G20 on Syria and Trade”