Sino-Russia Déjà Vu


President Vladimir Putin by going shirtless and catching fish in Siberia indicates that neither Russia nor China is in mood to surrender to any kind American dictates

By Mridu Kumari

Just when air was thick with optimism that the US under the Donald Trump administration would reset Washington’s relations with Moscow, the American President signed a bill for the imposition of new sanctions on Russia. The bill received a bipartisan support in the US, signaling that Russia would not walk away with any sense of déjà vu with the change of guards in Washington. That President Trump appeared to be under pressure to act against Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 Presidential election was clear when Democrats and members from his own Republican party questioned his impartiality in on-going investigations into alleged linkage between members of his administrative staff and the Kremlin.

In February, he ousted his National Security Advisor Gen Michael Flynn, following the flurry of embarrassing revelations on the latter’s contacts with Russian ambassador to Washington Sergei Kislyak. Then he fired James Comey as FBI Director in May over his reported investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia during the last Presidential election. Therefore, successive developments, including the recent revelation that his son, son-in-law and former campaign manager met a Russian lawyer in the expectation of receiving damaging information on Hillary Clinton, brought into focus his family’s ties with Russia.

The fresh move to impose sanction on Russia needs to be seen in the light of these repugnant developments. However, some political pundits term it as eyewash; they see it as measure adopted by President Trump to save himself from attacks he faces from politicians, media and the civil society alike over his unpredictable style of functioning. Threat from the two Democrat lawmakers of moving impeachment motion in the House against the President is hanging like a sword of Damocles on him. Yet like an intoxicated elephant, Trump is ready to create a storm in China’s tea cup too. The US has sanctioned two Chinese citizens, a Chinese shipping company and a Chinese bank for their links with Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. The lone superpower which has its eyes on China’s expansionist attitude and is against its standoff with India on Doklam, is ready to punish Beijing on the trade issue.

America has repeatedly accused China of devaluing the Yuan (Chinese currency), dumping steel and theft of US intellectual property. Given this, it is planning to start a probe into the matter under the 1947 Trade Act’s section 301. With this, there is likelihood of eruption of trade war between the leading and the second economy of the world. Already, they are sharing prickly relations on the South China Sea issue. In that way to write off occurrence of major changes at the geo-political turf of Indo-Pacific region would be foolhardy. 

In fact, adding grist to ongoing shadow boxing between the US and Russia on the one hand and the US and China on the other is the Iran factor. The Middle-East nation is under the US radar for launching missile in January this year. The Trump administration has issued threat of rescinding nuclear deal reached between Tehran and the US-led six nations, including Germany in 2015 which led to lifting of sanctions on Iran.

In fact, with this, in one go, the US has opened a front against Russia, China and Iran. For this, inaptitude of President Trump is cited as the single reason, yet what is disturbing is his blindness to sane voices made by advisors. He removed press secretary Sean Spicer then in July, Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff was fired from service simply because he failed to have good rapport with new communication director Anthony Scaramucci who had earlier replaced Mike Dubke. Hence, in this atmosphere of chaos in the White House, there is hardly a silver line which could enliven Americans or international community’s hopes towards the new US President. Particularly after proposed new US sanctions against Russia, gloves are out against the US administration. France, Germany and the EU have also criticized sanctions amid worries that the measure could affect business across Europe. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned that the European Union would hit back within a matter of days if the sanctions damaged its economic interests. Juncker also made it clear that America should not mean that Europe’s interests come last.

On the other hand, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov recently told a news agency that the latest US sanctions move left no room to improve relations in the near future. “This is already having an extremely negative impact on the process of normalizing our relations,” Ryabkov said, adding Russia-US relations were entering “unchartered territory in a political and diplomatic sense.” In December, deep diplomatic chill set in between the two sides after the US expelled 35 diplomatic staff from Russian embassy and consular offices in America after accusing them of meddling in the US Presidential election. Following the US move to slap sanctions against Moscow, Russia too has started hardening its posture against America. It has asked the US to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia and has informed the Trump administration that it would seize two US diplomatic properties.

The move would reduce US diplomatic and technical staff to 455, the same number Russia has in the US. Despite this, there is no likelihood of the two countries go for a war, because both nations have a greater level of engagement. Also, Russia would no longer engage in any kind of conflict because its economy is not in good shape at the moment. But Russia will not surrender to any American dictates; by going shirtless and catching fish in Siberia President Vladimir Putin has send a succinct message to the world that he is ready for any challenge.