20 July 2018   Leave a comment

The US House of Representatives has stripped out a provision in a “must-pass” defense appropriation bill that would have prohibited the Chinese telecom firm, ZTE, from buying US technology for its products.  The company was punished by the US Commerce Department in 2016 because it was selling telecommunications equipment with US technology to countries that were being sanctioned by the US: Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Cuba.   That decision was overturned by US President Trump because the punishment threatened the dissolution of the company and the punishment was changed to a hefty financial fine.  But many in Congress believed that the sanctions punishment needed to be reinstated in order to maintain US credibility as it tries to encourage other states to keep the economic pressure on North Korea and Iran, specifically.  The legislative change represents a significant concession to the Chinese government as well as a huge hole in the US sanctions strategy.  And today Russia and China both blocked a US effort to tighten oil sanctions on North Korea and the oil sanctions regime is falling apart even as President Trump continues to talk about “”maximum pressure” on North Korea.  Recent studies indicate that North Korea has already imported about a million barrels of oil in 2018.


We are still trying to find out what happened during the two-hour meeting between US President Trump and Russian President Putin at their summit in Helsinki.  Apparently, there has been no significant debriefing of any US officials about any agreements that were made.  But the Russians are clearly delighted with the results and are treating the summit as a victory for President Putin.  One needs to remember that, after the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, US President Obama characterized Russia as a “regional”, not a global, power, a slight that President Putin intends to erase.  Eduard Lozansky, writing in the Russian newspaper, Izvestia, called Trump’s behavior at the summit a “small miracle” and that “the summit did take place, and the results exceeded all expectations.”  Matthew Bodner, writing in The New Republic, points out the significance of Putin’s success in Helsinki as a source of domestic legitimacy for a Russian economy that is clearly on the ropes:

“Putin’s domestic legitimacy is increasingly rooted in a sense that he has restored Russia as a great and respected international power. So long as he delivers perceived victories, even if those victories come in the form of righteous handshakes, he will be popular. In that sense, Trump’s obsequious performance on Monday may have as much of an effect on Russian domestic politics as on American domestic politics, adding to Putin’s authoritarian hand—already bolstered by Russia’s highly successful hosting of the World Cup—in dealing with his electorate.

Despite his success at the summit, President Putin showcased new Russian weapons on Thursday, as if to highlight Russia’s return to “great power” status.  The weapons included Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, advanced Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles, prototypes of upgraded nuclear-powered Burevestnik cruise missiles, the Poseidon unmanned underwater drones, Avangard missile complex with a completely new gliding maneuverable warhead, and the Peresvet laser complexes.  Many of these new weapons are not yet ready for deployment, but the Russian statement will no doubt stimulate another round of defense spending.

What is completely inexplicable is that President Trump has invited Mr. Putin to the White House in the fall.  He did so without any reference to whatever foundations the Helsinki summit may have created for subsequent meetings, without consulting Dan Coates, the Director of National Intelligence, without referencing an agenda for the second meeting, and without addressing the Russian attack on the US electoral system in 2016.   I am a true believer in dialogue between adversaries, but dialogues lead nowhere unless they are based on frank and open discussions of divisive issues.  Moreover, Putin should not step foot into the White House until the US electoral system is protected against another attack.  Already, there have three Russian attacks on US political campaigns in 2018.  If Trump wants to meet Putin, they can talk in Trump Tower, not in the White House.

Posted July 20, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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