Putin-Trump meeting in Hamburg, Germany in July 2017 (Image: screen capture)
Short of war, the largest fallout from the intensifying Korean crisis is likely to be a new rapprochement between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, according to a Ukrainian analyst, who suggests that under the cover of the threat of a nuclear conflict the US president and his Kremlin counterpart may do a deal at Ukraine’s expense.
In a commentary for Strana.ua, Oleh Voloshin says that Trump has signaled he still hopes for a big deal with Putin, condemning US Congress for adopting new sanctions against Russia and praising Putin for saving the US government money by expelling American diplomats.
Trump’s second action is especially indicative. On the one hand, it highlights the contempt of the current administration for the diplomatic service whose members are viewed with distaste by many ordinary Americans who form the current American president’s political base.
On the other, Voloshin argues, it demonstrates that Trump has not given up on his fundamental idea that partnership with Moscow is something that would be good for the US and that he will use almost any development in the world to promote that idea both within his administration and more generally.
In almost any other circumstances, no American president would dare praise a Kremlin leader for expelling US diplomats, but now, faced with the crisis in Korea, the situation has changed. “If Russia is viewed by its opponents as a threat to democracy and the existing world order, North Korea looks like a threat to the very existence of the US.”
And that creates a definite basis for expanding cooperation with Moscow as far as Trump is concerned, the Ukrainian analyst says.
Russia’s willingness to vote for a UN Security Council resolution imposing harsh sanctions on North Korea shows that Moscow is quite open to this possibility. More than that, this Russian vote “allows Trump to temporarily put off the imposition of new anti-Russian sanctions.”
Moreover, Voloshin continues, Moscow has shown itself willing to cooperate with the US in Syria, and “this allows the Trump command to make the argument that partnership with Moscow from a position of strength is more useful than the application of force (including economic) to punish Russia for past sins.”
All of this taken together, however, “doesn’t mean that a total rapprochement between Moscow and Washington is possible,” at least anytime soon. Their differences are too great for that, as one or the other would have to sacrifice things that are the core values of these respective regimes.
But it does mean that Trump and Putin will be looking for places where they can make progress, and one of the most obvious is the pursuit of some kind of compromise on Ukraine. That is all the more likely given European pressures for an accord and given the Kremlin’s ostensible “flexibility” on such issues.
In short, Ukraine faces a situation very different from what is policy makers assume is the case. “Today there is no united front against Russia,” Voloshin says. “Everyone is maneuvering and seeking points of contact. This by itself is a serious test” for Kyiv, and one more way that the Korean crisis is affecting outcomes in many other parts of the world.
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