by Petr Akopov
The visit of John Kerry looks like an attempt to tune down the conflict with Russia. The US is ready to admit the failure of the policy of “isolating Russia” and is looking for ways to back down. Without relinquishing the goal of containment of Russia, it wants to make it less obvious, as it was before, counting in return on Moscow cooperation on key geopolitical issues.
US Secretary of State Kerry occupies fifth place in the official American power hierarchy – that is, he is fourth in line to take the place in the White House should anything happen to the President (after the Vise-President and Speakers of House and Senate). However, in the real power hierarchy 71 years-old John Kerry, former Presidential candidate, who belongs on his mother’s side to the one of the most influential American oligarchic families Forbes (he is also married to the billions of ketchup “Heinz”), is positioned even higher.
Kerry – he is that hereditary Anglo-Saxon elite that governs the USA (it is not by accident that he is related to another dynasty – Bushes). His pale counterpart in the current administration is Vise-President Biden. In the administration of inherently weak president Obama the foreign policy was the prerogative of experienced and qualified people – Biden, Hillary Clinton, Kerry. Biden and Kerry worked together for a long time in the Committee on Foreign Relations in the Senate (both were Heads of that committee), and Clinton, although she was less versed in the world affairs, spent eight years in the White House and worked as long in the Senate commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Of course, if Obama unexpectedly had turned out to be a strong President (although he was not elected for that) with his own geopolitical if not strategy but, at least, tactics, then his impact of the US foreign policy would have been decisive. But as things stand, he has become the first among equals, dependent on his more experienced associates.
This situation revealed itself quite clearly in the relationships with Russia. First, Clinton and Biden were directing the game. The former distinguished herself by the Freudian error with “peregruzka”, and the latter – by the clearly stupid attempt to interfere openly into the internal affairs of Russia trying to split the Russian elites and betting on the Medvedev’s re-election. As a result, by the beginning of the Obama’s second term in 2013 our countries found themselves on the brink of a cold war.
After Kerry had become the Secretary of State, he only had time to visit Moscow and talk to Putin once – in May of 2013, after which the events began to unfold at kaleidoscopic speed: the flight of Snowden and asylum granted to him by Russia, the US gamble in Syria (where Obama nevertheless put his foot down stopping the invasion – mostly thanks to the firm position of Putin), the turning of Yanukovich away from Eurointegration.
By early 2014, the confrontation of the US and Russia over Ukraine seemed to have reached the highest level, but that was just the beginning. After the mission of the three European foreign ministers in Kiev, Obama asked Putin to persuade Yanukovich to make a deal with the opposition. Putin agreed, but the very next day, after the coup, the Americans forgot about the agreement.
The relationship between the leaders of the two countries essentially collapsed. Putin lost trust in Obama, and the subsequent events in Crimea demonstrated that Russia was not prepared to silently watch the US/NATO swallowing Ukraine. Furthermore, Russia challenged the whole concept of the American-style world order, switching from defense to the coordination of efforts of all countries and forces desirous of changing the rules of the global game, from China to Latin America. An attempt to name Russia as an aggressor and organize its isolation was a natural reaction for the US – those that rise against the right of America to determine what is right and what is wrong should be severely punished.
Was it understood in Washington in spring of 2014 that the isolation of Russia would not succeed? No, and it took Washington a year to realize that.
Kerry’s visit symbolizes an admission of that very fact – we could not do anything with you, however hard we tried. Let us somehow reach an agreement that we would not go for a global confrontation on all issues but, rather, set the Ukraine problem aside and try to find common ground with regard to other problems. Brazen? Undoubtedly, but the elite of the nation that considers itself indispensable and in charge of the global mission is unable to think or act otherwise. We will strangle you with one hand, but let us use the other hand for cooperation – this is the expression, I believe, Putin used last year to describe the American attitude. What changed after the visit of the Secretary of State?
Kerry came to make the Russian President understand – we are ready to pretend that we are not strangling you and even lessen the grip a bit, but in return we want to talk about Syria, Iran, caliphate, North Korea, and other things important to us. And about Ukraine, of course – give us the guarantees that you would not annex it, and we will forget about Crimea and promise not to admit Ukraine to NATO.
Obviously, Kerry did not say any of this in so many words, but it was important for him to understand whether Russia is serious about its struggle against the American global hegemony (from finances to ideology, from China to Middle East) or it is simply bluffing in order to scare the US and gain concessions on Ukraine, forcing the US to back off from it. This is an example of the typical American logic, but that is how the US views the international relationships: the weak Russia cannot be so bold.
You are weak, you lost the Cold War, you do understand, do you not, that we will never allow you to reintegrate the post-Soviet space – where do you think you are pushing in with your Russian world, Eurasian union and anti-globalist ambitions? Kerry as well as Clinton and Obama held precisely such view of Russia a year ago, and this year has not made them change their minds. But it forced them to start thinking, at least – the events were indeed developing in a rather unfortunate way.
During the year of “isolation” of Russia, the political position of the US failed to improve – instead, it keeps worsening for both objective and subjective, i.e. attack at Russia, reasons.
First, the situation in the Middle East is becoming more and more difficult and anti-American. Through its actions, the US unintentionally has created chaos and is unable to extricate itself from it or solve the numerous problems. The growth of the caliphate, strained relations with almost all allies in the region, a boiling mess in Afghanistan, the Iranian labyrinth. Russia is supporting Syria, establishing closer relations with Iran and Egypt, approaching Pakistan, and looking closely at Afghanistan.
Second, forcing Europe to keep the anti-Russia sanctions in place allowed, on the one hand, to rein in the Old World elites, but on the other hand – increased the anti-American sentiments on the continent, so that it will not be possible to keep the cross-Atlantic solidarity for much longer. Soon, the discussion about the extension of the sanctions is to take place that has a chance of splitting the EU – Europe openly wishes the confrontation with Russia to end. The breakdown of the unified European front would be a severe blow to the US reputation; that is why, in anticipation of possible loosening of the sanctions, Washington is in a hurry to proclaim this, via Kerry’s visit, as its own initiative (naturally, such action would be presents as: “the sanctions have achieved their effect forcing Russia to refrain from escalating the war in Ukraine”).
Third, the relations between Russia and China are expanding so fast that it causes serious anxiety among Ango-Saxon strategists. Washington is losing to Beijing the competition for the Pacific region, and the tandem of Putin and Xi could not only mean the establishment of the Russia-China alliance, but could also become the platform for building the ram that will destroy the very foundation of the Ango-Saxon power – the world financial system based on the dollar as the global reserve currency. The US still has the strength to block the reform of the IMF but this only increases the risk of finding out later on that nobody is interested in such a reform anymore, since a parallel global financial architecture has already been formed.
As a special bonus of this year of Russia’s “isolation”, the whole world (including even Western anti-Atlantists) came to view Putin as the symbol of resistance to the American dominance. This perception first emerged at the time of the Snowden story but has solidified after the sanctions and blockade. Such perception, by the way, plays a significant psychological role in the geopolitical struggle – the presence of such a symbol opens up novel venues in the fight against the hegemony.
Kerry came to try to gauge the strategic goals of Putin. Not just in Ukraine (will or will not annex) but in general, the global far-reaching aims. And to evaluate whether there are symptoms that this “mysterious Russian” in his heart of hearts has no problem with globalization, but simply wants to secure a position for himself in the club of those ruling the “golden billion” and for his country – a dignified place among Western countries. And whether the Russia’s turn towards the East is just a smokescreen for the West in order to raise the stakes.
I do not know what Kerry saw in Putin’s eyes (he, unlike Hillary Clinton, has never said that “the KGB agent has no soul”) but something tells me that the lieutenant colonel behaved in a way to make the best possible impression on the Yale graduate. So that later Kerry together with Biden and Obama (and with Hillary – she might be taking over, after all) would try to solve the non-existing for the Russians “Putin enigma” puzzling over it and wasting time (working against the USA) in search of options: what could we offer in exchange, what could we do to reach a deal with the Russians about “local cooperation” and at the same time keep Ukraine for ourselves?
The idea that this is impossible in principle, that Putin will not give up his goal of reforming the unipolar world even after Ukraine has returned to the Russia’s orbit would never ever enter their minds. Their very Anglo-Saxon minds.