Trump’s Great Helsinki Betrayal May Bring Him Down - and Putin
US President Trump’s disastrous 16th July meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, is being seen as a major turning point in world affairs. But, rather than being the moment when the global order was pushed off a cliff, history may judge it as the time when the diabolical duo’s onslaught began to falter.
Let’s fast forward a couple of years.
Trump repeatedly humiliating his own country in front of the whole world contributed to a calamitous result for the Republicans at the November 2018 mid-term elections. Patriotic Americans shunned the party and only Trump’s hardcore supporters turned out to vote for candidates he backed.
Losing control of Congress to the Democrats ended the Trump administration’s prospects of enacting its agenda. Worse, the Democrats have even remembered their roots and are producing policies to improve the circumstances of blue collar Americans. Trump’s claims that he has “always been a Democrat at heart” are being derisively dismissed. His blustering about immigrants and the media is increasingly ignored as a tired circus sideshow.
The economic upswing that Trump inherited from the Obama administration and stole credit for early in his term, has evaporated due to the trade war he instigated. Whilst Trump has no credible claims of “winning” to fall back on, the Democrats easiest win of all is to abandon his tariffs on imported steel. The cost increases had caused the lay-off of many of the forty times more Americans who work with the metal than are employed in producing it. They are particularly delighted to be back at work.
Meanwhile, the Mueller Investigation has confirmed beyond all doubt that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to pervert the course of the 2016 election. The investigation also uncovered Trump’s financial dependence on corrupt Kremlin-connected Russians stretching back many years. Mueller’s report proves how Putin exploited this to coerce Trump.
It is uncertain whether impeachment proceedings can be concluded before the end of Trump’s four-year term, but it is clear he has no prospect of re-election.
senior Republicans turn their fire on Russia
The widespread public revulsion at Trump’s treachery causes Republican office holders to stampede from the sinking ship. Trump’s supporters are now too few to intimidate them into cravenly standing up for him, as they did during his first two years in office. For many GOP Senators and Congressmen, saving their own political skins now depends on denouncing Trump as loudly as possible.
Rather than focus too closely on their own failures that allowed this calamity to occur, senior Republicans turn their fire on Russia as the source of it. Those who always maintained their distance from Trump and expressed concerns about the Russia connection are best placed to take advantage of the situation.
Ex-Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska are the leading candidates for the 2020 Republican Presidential nomination. All see differentiating themselves from Trump’s toadying to Putin as essential to victory.
The candidates competing to pledge the toughest punishments against Russia for its conduct is a feature of the primary campaign. Harsher economic sanctions, seizing of assets and extending NATO protection to Russia’s closest neighbours are all high on the agenda.
Not wishing to be outflanked and seeing their party as the main victim of Putin’s crimes, numerous Democratic presidential candidates enter the bidding to batter Russia too.
One Democrat makes use of a CIA leak to expose details of the billions stolen personally by Putin. Even the heavily state-controlled Russian media cannot keep this information entirely from the Russian people and Putin’s credibility is irrevocably damaged. His popularity is further undermined by the absence of reforms and the expensive military stalemates overseas that have worsened the country’s economic crisis.
Seeing the system that sustains them at risk of collapse, a cabal of Russian oligarchs and security service apparatchiks begin plotting Putin’s overthrow.
Was it really so clever to create so many enemies around the world all at once?
Elsewhere, relief is widespread. Countries across Europe that have suffered cyber, chemical weapons and conventional military attacks from Russia over recent years are united in their enthusiasm for the signals coming from Washington. The clear focus on a common enemy – Putin’s Russia – reinvigorates Western alliances almost overnight.
Even China begins to distance itself from Moscow. Now confident in its status as a superpower, Beijing no longer sees much benefit in being shackled by its partnership with a weak and backward Russia. It has experienced its interests being endangered by Russian-driven disruption of the global security and trading systems. Disaster having been narrowly averted, China begins discreetly pursuing ways to preserve the international order with the new brooms in the US.
In Moscow, Vladimir Putin sits alone in his suburban mansion. He is not particularly looking forward to seeing out his days in Damascus. Not for the first time, he regrets the short-term thinking and arrogance that has always caused him trouble in the end.
Was it really so clever to create so many enemies around the world all at once? How did he not realise that all those far-right nationalist misanthropes he supported would end up hating each other too, instead of working together? And why couldn’t he resist making it so obvious he had Trump on a string at that bloody summit in Helsinki?
As the guards arrive to take him to the plane into exile, Putin consoles himself that he was right all along about one thing. The West really did have the power to create regime change in Moscow.
About the author
Paul Knott began his working life in a hut on Hull's King George Dock before globetrotting for two decades as an unlikely British envoy. His "instructive and funny" (Alan Johnson MP) book about his experiences, "The Accidental Diplomat", is out now.
He is also the Chief Foreign Correspondent for the Sabotage Times and contributes to publications such as The Telegraph, Forty-20 and When Saturday Comes.
All that travel has failed to shift Paul's inherited old Labour instincts.
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