I was all set to cross the Kremlin and Red Square off my travel bucket list last year. The opportunity arose when I was invited to join a choir travelling to Latvia to take part in a choral fest. Nothing against Latvia or Latvians, but when I said “count me in,” it was the possibility of a side trip to Latvia’s neighbour, Russia, that most excited me. But it was not to be! After learning that NATO forces had been stationed in Latvia to respond to potential Russian aggression, those in charge cancelled the choir trip out of safety concerns.
So quickly has the relationship between Russia and the West–and in particular the US–deteriorated that I doubt that I will ever see the colourful onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral or view the magnificent art collections housed in the Hermitage.
NATO troops stationed in Latvia to deter Putin’s Russia: it wasn’t supposed to be like this. Didn’t the Obama administration ‘press the reset button’ with Russia? Who can forget the goofy red button episode in 2009, when Secretary-of-State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov with a big red button inscribed with the English word ‘reset’ and the Russian word ‘peregruzka’–which actually meant ‘overcharged’, not ‘reset’. It had been Pres. Obama’s idea, not Clinton’s, to reset relations between the US and Russia (although the idea for a big red button probably didn’t originate with Pres. Obama). With two new heads at the helms of their respective countries–Obama and Medvedev–this was the perfect time to inaugurate a new era of cooperation.
Evidence of this new spirit of co-operation came via a ‘hot’ microphone. In what was meant to be a private conversation between him and then-Pres. Medvedev prior to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, Pres. Obama can be heard telling Medvedev how it is important for Putin to give him [Obama] space; how after the election, his [Obama’s] last, he will have more flexibility. In the aftermath of that conversation, a now more-flexible POTUS dismantled the US missile defense plans for Central Europe, and made a new arms treaty with Russia which allowed it to grow its atomic arsenal.
Further evidence of this new spirit of co-operation came with the Obama administration’s approval of a deal which saw more than 1/5 of US uranium-mining capacity sold to Russia’s state-controlled nuclear energy conglomerate, Rosatom.
Given this history of co-operation between the Obama administration and Russia, it seems just a little rich for the Democrats to accuse Trump and his associates of ‘colluding’ with the Russians to swing the 2016 election in their favour. The word ‘collude’ has negative connotations, of course. It means ‘to come to an understanding or conspire together, especially for a fraudulent purpose’. The word ‘co-operate’ on the other hand means simply ‘to work or act together’. Was the Obama administration ‘colluding’ or merely ‘co-operating’ with Putin’s Russia? The word one chooses has a lot to do with one’s political affiliation.
Pres. Trump and his associates are currently being investigated by the FBI to determine whether they colluded with the Russians to swing the 2016 presidential election in their favour. Trump denies any collusion. Putin–former head of the Soviet Union’s spy agency, the KGB–denies any meddling. Would he say otherwise? Whatever the outcome of the FBI investigation, the relationship between Putin’s Russia and the US has been ‘reset’ to a low point not seen since the Cold War. A trip to Putin’s Russia now? Not very likely.