Is the US president a secret Russian agent? It’s an unsettling question which came up during the last election after US intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow helped the former property tycoon to steal the presidential race. Although Robert Muller’s investigation into the Kremlin meddling in that contest was unable to prove direct collusion between Moscow and team Trump, it is a question that one is forced to reconsider once again.
After all, with less than 90 days to go before this election, US counter intelligence is now pointing the finger at yet more Russian interference. According to the Washington Post, the Kremlin appears to be “using a range of measures” to meddle in the election, including enlisting a pro-Russian lawmaker from Ukraine “to undermine former vice president [Joe] Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party.”
Why? The former Vice President helped the Ukraine and supported anti-Putin forces inside Moscow during his two terms in office. The news comes a few months after CNN revealed that the Kremlin has set up Russian troll farms in Africa to inflame divisions and stir up social unrest amongst Americans in the run up to the election, begging the question: is the Russian leader trying to get Trump re-elected? And, if so, why?
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the infamous dossier penned by former MI5 agent Christopher Steele, Vladimir Putin had “been actively cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least 5 years.”
His aim: “disrupt, divide and discredit” the entire western democratic world order in favour of Moscow. According to the report, Putin’s wish list includes lifting sanctions on Russia, turning a blind eye towards its aggressive efforts in the Ukraine, and creating a divisive rift amongst western allies to counter the Kremlin’s waning power on the world stage. And, looking back on the carnage of Trump’s first term, one can‘t help but conclude that the President has been fairly effective in this regard.
After all, in June Trump announced plans to bring home 9,500 US troops stationed in Germany, weakening America’s foothold in Europe. The move came 6 months after he pulled money out of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) made up by the US, Europe and Canada. He has also voiced plans to withdraw Washington from the coalition altogether.
Now, there are few things that the Russian President would want more than an weakened NATO as the military alliance has sought to put a lid on Soviet and Russian aggression for over 70 years. Pulling the US out of the treaty would be tantamount to destroying the pact, drastically reducing America’s influence in Europe whilst emboldening Moscow for decades, forcing one to ask: what does Trump hope to achieve with such a move? In the words of Michèle A. Flournoy, an under secretary of defense under President Barack Obama:
“It would destroy 70-plus years of painstaking work across multiple administrations, Republican and Democratic, to create perhaps the most powerful and advantageous alliance in history. And it would be the wildest success that Vladimir Putin could dream of.”
In short: with the mere stoke of his pen, Trump would do all of Putin’s bidding for him, leading one to wonder if he is trying to please his Russian handlers much like Sergeant Shaw in the Manchurian Candidate?
Moreover, another gift the former reality TV star has bestowed upon the Russian leader is the withdrawal of US troops from Syria. By doing so, he removed the Kremlin’s only real military rival in the region, paving the way for it to shape Syria’s future and fill in the power vacuum left in the Middle East. This in turn made Moscow a major player in the oil rich region.
And, let us not forget Trump’s ultimate gift to Putin: tearing up the hard won Paris climate pact which was an anathema for the Russian petro-state which is heavily reliant on its oil revenues.
The Paris accord was widely celebrated as a historic “victory” for mankind when it was signed at the end of 2015. After all, after two decades of bickering over who should make the most cuts, the US and China, the world’s largest emitters, stepped up to the plate to lead the way.
The brainchild of former US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, the agreement vowed to limit global heating to 2 degrees celsius, with more ambitious aims of 1.5 degrees celsius.
The planet has already warmed by over 1C since the dawn of the Industrial Age, bleaching coral reefs, melting the polar ice caps and setting large swathes of Australia on fire. One need only imagine what 4 to 5 degrees of warming will bring about before the turn of this century. Sadly, this is the trajectory that we are currently on according to the United Nation’s most recent climate report, the gold standard in climate reporting.
Moreover, the last time our planet warmed to that extent over 200 million years ago, it melted the world’s permafrost, releasing vast stores of methane gas which is 30 times more potent that carbon dioxide in terms of cooking the planet. The result: the planet warmed up dramatically, killing 97% of all life on earth. Make no mistake: this is the sweltering future we are fast racing towards, and if Trump gets re-elected, the US leaves the Paris treaty the very next day.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, and as a result is not hyperbole to view the upcoming US election as the most important in the history of mankind. After all, the fate of all our species is hanging in the balance. With so much on the line, it is not surprising to learn that it is not only the Russians who are meddling in this election, but also the Chinese and the Iranians.
Unlike Moscow, Beijing appears to be gunning for a Biden win after all the hell raised by Trump’s US-China trade war. And Tehran is simply looking to create chaos as payback after Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal and interfered with its affairs. But, either way, all meddlers benefit from leaving the world’s most powerful nation in disarray. As Simon Tisdall wrote in the Guardian after the debacle of the 2016 election:
“The unprecedented confusion in the US is what old KGB agents like Putin could only dream of. Putin famously decried the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the US played a leading role in bringing about, as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the [20th] century”. A quarter of a century later, having exhibited the calculated patience of Karla, John le Carré’s fictional Russian spymaster, Putin can savour his revenge — at arm’s length.”
Although the players may be slightly different, the result is essentially the same. One can but hope that both US intelligence and the American electorate have wised up over the last four years to both the dangers of foreign interference, and more importantly, to the sheer lunacy of a Trump presidency.