Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor resume—after a two-week recess—their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Cohen begins by reiterating his argument that international terrorism—a modern-day phenomenon that controls territory, has aspects of statehood, commands sizable fighting forces, has agents in many countries outside the Middle East, and is in search of radioactive materials that would make their bombings incalculably more lethal—is the No. 1 threat to the world today, including the United States, Europe, and Russia. Coping with this danger requires an international alliance of governments, first and foremost between the United States and Russia, which is especially qualified to be an American security partner in this regard.
As he promised during the 2016 presidential campaign, President Trump has sought, publicly and privately, such an anti-terrorism coalition with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At each stage of the negotiations, the media’s “Russiagate” narrative—allegations that Trump himself or his “associates” have been treasonously compromised by the Kremlin, and for which no actual evidence has yet been produced—has intervened in ways that jeopardize, if not sabotage, the diplomatic process. The two most recent examples are allegations that Trump betrayed intelligence secrets to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an Oval Office meeting and discussed with him Trump’s recent firing of FBI Director James Comey. And that the president’s son-in-law, and now aide, Jared Kushner, participated in an effort to establish a secret, unofficial “back channel” of communication with Moscow prior to Trump’s inauguration.
Cohen presents a different historical narrative and analysis, including the following general points, which he and Batchelor discuss:
§ Putin, whose country has suffered many devastating terrorist attacks, has sought such a US-Russian anti-terrorism alliance for nearly 17 years, at least since the 9/11 attacks on America, and repeatedly thereafter. Each time the prospect seemed real, at least to Moscow, particularly in the early 2000s under President George W. Bush and briefly under President Barack Obama in 2016, it was thwarted by policymakers or other forces in Washington.
§ Therefore, despite misgivings by some of his senior advisers, Putin saw in Trump’s election another chance for the alliance he has long thought to be in Russia’s essential national interests. It would begin in Syria, as Trump had also proposed. Despite setbacks in Washington and in Syria, Putin and Trump began the diplomatic process—primarily through Lavrov and his counterpart Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, though not only—and sustained it. Putin met personally with Tillerson in Moscow, and he asked Trump to meet with Lavrov in Washington.