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Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and the BRICS of Contention

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump and the BRICS of Contention

No. 2, Nov.-Dec. 2016 » UNCOVERstory

Anyone looking for this “couple” on the internet will find almost 30 million articles indexed on Google [1], which means that interest in the relationship between the leaders of the big A-bomb powers is huge. This number grows every day and will surpass one billion by the end of 2020.

We can distinguish between three types of analyses about the relations between those leaders.

Firstly, one that states that Vladimir Putin has the superior position (because of a generic list of arguments). In support of this position, we can find numerous articles, including a list named "too close to Russia", which is 18 pages long [2]. The prestigious Swiss Technology Institute from Zurich included in its very recent publications a text named "Russia's Trump card?" [3] (9th of December 2016).

The second one starts from a specific characteristic of the American President, as evidenced by the short, halting and vague messages that characterize tweeting. In the last two years, Mr. Trump has posted some "debate teasers" in the form of short white papers on the Internet, with consequences for the political competition. After the 8th of November, his tweets produced consequences which are more readily evaluated, with movements on the stock exchange and within some other political institutions. In this case, the relationship between the two states and their leaders will be something not completely predictable, potentially leading to less desirable outcomes for global political and economic relations. Here, analysts emphasize the businessman behavior of the American President, which is readily sketched in books about business and on the TV show “The Apprentice”.

There are no texts trying to prove that President Trump will have the initiative and the leadership role in the personal relationship with the Russian President; there are also no texts trying to analyze how President Vladimir Putin will act in this bilateral relation.

The third one presents the military and economic power of USA as being in a beneficial symbiosis with President Trump's behavior. Here, we can recognize the administrative type of paradigm – the Cabinet members and the President’s staff (strategists, policy advisors, media and sectorial advisors etc.), which are part of the collective Presidential institution whose public face is Donald Trump, are assumed to automatically be a moderating element in Presidential policy formulation. They would supposedly refine and give substance to the general policy directions chosen by the President and moderate the influence of temperament or foibles.

In any case, there are no texts trying to prove that President Trump will have the initiative and the leadership role in the personal relationship with the Russian President; there are also no texts trying to analyze how President Vladimir Putin will act in this bilateral relation. Stereotypes are used to describe the Russian President's position, but we cannot identify a deep analysis that has become prominent on public search engines.

Human relations, despite the conventional wisdom of the public, are deeply influenced by the careers and life experiences of the parties involved. On the one hand, we'll see a person with a presence spanning more than 25 years in politics at local, national and international levels; on the other hand, we are witnessing the first steps in the political career of his interlocutor, having ascended directly to the top of his country’s hierarchy of leadership. The first one is 10 years younger than the new American President: younger, but with great experience in international relations. The main difference lies in their attitude on business: the Russian President was molded within a system where "making money" was considered illegal and immoral; the American President’s life has been spent around money, profit and the specter of bankruptcy. When you are 72 years old, it is hard to believe that you will strongly change your behavior and methods of acting with other people and other institutions.

The main uncertainty this text highlights is knowing the clear vision of the new American President on international affairs.

For example, Tomas Wright wrote in October 2016 [4] that:

"The most common thing said about Donald Trump’s world view is that he does not have one. To many observers, he appears to be on every side of every issue. He is ignorant about vast areas of policy. By his own admission, he does not rely heavily on advisers and does not read widely, if at all, preferring instead to watch cable television. The notion that Trump is something of a blank slate allowed some supporters to argue that he would learn on the job and use his unique experience as a businessman to negotiate deals on behalf of the American people. His senior advisers have briefed foreign ambassadors to the United States that Trump would be an internationalist in office but he would seek better terms on trade and alliances. However, Trump is not a blank slate nor is he malleable. He has displayed no capacity to evolve on complicated foreign policy issues the more he is exposed to them."

After the election, President Trump chose a very interesting Cabinet, one that is heavy with generals. His chosen group of administrators would accept the orders of their Commander in Chief and work towards “making America great again".

About this concept, the same Wright wrote:

"Trump’s overall world view, which he now calls ‘America First’, is a perfect fusion of domestic and foreign policy. Trump believes that the United States is in a steep decline because of its activities on the world stage, in particular its support for alliances. He believes that the US-led liberal international order has failed Americans. He wants others to do more and pay more. And he wants the United States to focus on a very narrow set of national interests, rather than the broader notions of liberal order that have shaped US strategy since the Second World War".

We agree that the concept "Make America Great Again" is a fusion between internal and foreign policy, but the relative weight of each is considerably inclined in favor of domestic policies. However, the first step for a better understanding is knowing which, in the mind of President Trump, are the low performance areas are and what are the sources of those weaknesses when the USA does become weaker?

International affairs will take a backseat to domestic policies and limited attention spans and resources will mean the emergence of a concrete order of priority. From what we have noticed, the main country on Trump's agenda is China. A special dedication of "people and measures" has been made to certain Asian states, provoking deep concerns in Beijing and other capitals, which precipitated articles like the following: Punishing China won't "make America great again" [5]. Can such an article be considered a sign of fear? For sure, it means that China is carefully considering President Trump’s positions and preparations are being made in Beijing for a coherent response and policy.

But this top priority has important significance for the Moscow Administration, shared also by the BRICS states. China represents a very important driver for a series of continental projects (mostly in Asia); it is possible that some of them will be blocked, just to save money for a quasi-commercial war with the US. In this case, there is a question to pose: will Russia take the lead of the BRICS group? From the answer of this question, we can chance some estimation of the probable relations between Presidents Trump and Putin.

But some dark clouds are gathering over Beijing, forcing Moscow to consider its options carefully: should they support China against the USA, or would a “wait and see” attitude serve them better? In the first variant, the relations between the Russian and American Presidents will be the opposite of a thaw. The second option that Russia has will elicit more satisfaction in Washington, but the BRICS project can be considered almost "dead".

The way BRICS was marketed over the last decade since its formalization was as a "united group against the global hegemony of the USA". Their economic advance can be considered – and we can admit this – threatening to US national interests ... and the likely loss of relative share in wealth and opportunities will have made America smaller, thus leading to the necessity of remaking the greatness of the USA. While a nominally equal group, the leaders of BRICS are the Presidents of China and Russia, two people having been at the helm in China, and only one in Russia.

In the last years, China achieved a stronger position inside BRICS, due to the losses in the Russian economy. But some dark clouds are gathering over Beijing, forcing Moscow to consider its options carefully: should they support China against the USA, or would a “wait and see” attitude serve them better? In the first variant, the relations between the Russian and American Presidents will be the opposite of a thaw. The second option that Russia has will elicit more satisfaction in Washington, but the BRICS project can be considered almost "dead". If President Trump will adopt strong measures against Chinese economic practices, the consequences will be global, forcing almost all states to choose – and Russia more than all others.

In this case, we may can consider that the greatest influence on Moscow – Washington relations will not be international relations as principal vector, but the consequences of the biggest GDP fight currently going on (more than 18 billion dollars for the USA, more than 11 billion for China, 1.3 billion for Russia). The future will convince even the skeptics that the economy is mightier than politics, but the politicians are stronger than “Big Business”.

NOTES

[1] https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=cr&ei=cnhtWOa_IoKTsgHcyKjIBA&fg=1#newwindow=1&q=vladimir+putin+donald+trump
[2] https://americanbridgepac.org/app/uploads/Too-Close-To-Russia.pdf
[3] http://www.css.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/gess/cis/center-for-securities-studies/pdfs/RAD194.pdf
[4] https://www.lowyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/wright_the_2016_presidential_campaign_and_the_crisis_of_us_foreign_policy_0_0.pdf
[5] http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1027189.shtml
 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016