CHILLY RETURNS TO RUSSIA RELATIONS

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

by John Gibson

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The Trump effect appears to be in full force.

For instance, that was a humdinger of a Tillerson/Lavrov news conference yesterday, wasn’t it?

Two great gray stone faces of international relations, the Russian Sergei Lavrov and the American Rex Tillerson, said the things diplomats don’t often say out loud after the best of three falls wrestling match that must have been busting up the furniture behind closed doors.

Tillerson said: “I expressed the view that the current state of U.S.-Russia relations is at a low point. There is a low level of trust between our two countries. The world’s two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”

Lavrov tossed out a gob of gloom.  “Well, the state secretary hasn’t threatened to use new sanctions, hasn’t threatened us at all,” he admitted. But, “We have had a frank discussion about the issues on our agenda and unfortunately we’ve got some difficult problems with regards to the majority of those issues.” (My emphasis.)

President Trump added, in an interview on the same day: “Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia. This is built for a long period of time but we’re going to see what happens.”

Ok, let’s first let’s dispense with the Democrats’ fondest fantasy: Intel Committees will find Trump was in cahoots with Vladimir Putin the steal the election from Hillary Clinton.  On that, Jonah Goldberg: “I think it is fair to say at this point that the Trump as Putin puppet storyline is officially dead. It could come back but it would take something really remarkable.”

To emphasize the point that Russian/U.S. relations are pretty ugly now Tillerson added “Over the course of the past 2 years, a number of reciprocal actions have been taken to demonstrate the dissatisfaction each country has with the other. We need to attempt to put an end to this steady degradation which is doing nothing to restore the trust between our two countries or to make progress on the issues of the greatest importance to both of us.”

So (we ask with trepidation), do new realistic relations, chilly as they may be, lead to warmer relations, or hot relations, like in…war?

Charles Krauthammer has the optimistic side: “I too was encouraged by the meeting between Lavrov and our Secretary of State Tillerson… but precisely I was encouraged by the iciness. It was beautifull, unlike John Kerry who would go around like a puppy dog pretending everything was ok and the Russians were listening and they are going to act right.  What we had was a stone-faced Tillerson who was grave and glum and said everything that is wrong which is exactly the kind of realism you want.”

On the other hand, Stephen Cohen, a professor of Russian studies, says he’s very concerned chilly relations will not lead to warm (good) but will lead to hot (bad): “The politics in Russia today as we talk is if not the conviction – the concern that America is preparing war against Russia – if not in Syria then on the two other Cold War fronts – Ukraine or the Baltic – where NATO is building up in an unprecedented way. So Russia is really, really wound tight and this is not good because they have nuclear weapons and because accidents happen.”

Accidents? Like what, Professor Cohen? “I have been doing this 40 years — sometimes as a professor, sometimes inside –and I have never been as worried as I am today about the possibility about a war with Russia.”

Ugh. Sure we should want relations with Russia to be such that Putin doesn’t think he can run amok around the world and the U.S. won’t make it hurt.

But the question remains: do chilly relations–what we have now–lead to warmer relations based on Russian respect for standards of national behavior the U.S. rightfully expects, or lead to relations that are dangerously hot and could lead to war?

The U.S. and Russia have played the proxy war game against each other for decades–think the U.S. Viet Nam and the Russians in Afghanistan–and they have also secretly encouraged attacks on U.S. interests around the world.

Will the Russians go face to face against us? Probably not. Will they figure a way to wound us? Probably.

For his part, President Trump has turned to Twitter again…this time to calm nerves, a departure from his tendency to Tweet provocation.  “Things will work out fine between the U.S.A. and Russia. At the right time everyone will come to their senses & there will be lasting peace!” he said.

Whether chilly turns warm or hot, it is likely to be rocky.