Trump-Putin ‘bromance’ attacked as aide quits

Clinching it: This mural by an artist in Lithuania, Russia’s neighbour, went viral last year.

A top adviser to Donald Trump has resigned after illicit conversations with Russia’s US ambassador. Trump wants improved relations with Vladimir Putin — but would that be good for the world?

Mike Flynn was one of the most senior officials in the US government — for 24 days. On January 20th, when Donald Trump’s presidency began, he became the national security adviser. But on Monday night he resigned in shame.

In December, while President Obama was still in office, Flynn held a discussion with the Russian ambassador to Washington. This weekend it emerged that the pair discussed sanctions which Obama had just placed on Russia — a remarkable breach of protocol.

US-Russian relations have been tense for over a decade. There have been clashes over Russian incursions into eastern Europe; Syria; hacking and government secrets; missile defence; and civil liberties.

But Trump has said several times that he wants to ‘get along with Russia’. And last week he caused a furore by appearing to shrug off Putin’s alleged role in the deaths of journalists and dissidents.

So the relationship between the former cold war adversaries could now change. According to this week’s Economist, Trump wants to work with Putin to defeat Islamist terrorism, including in Syria. He hopes to convince Russia to stand up to China and Iran; stop fomenting conflict in Europe; and hold nuclear arms control talks. In return he is prepared to halt NATO expansion.

Could it work? ‘The quest for a grand bargain is delusional,’ the magazine concludes. Putin, it argues, will advance Russian interests — for example by propping up its ally in Syria, the Assad government — rather than do what the USA wants.

But Trump and Putin have plenty in common ideologically. Both prefer nationalism, protectionism and tough social policies to liberalism. Both have embraced their nations’ traditional Christian heritage.

And in Monday’s Financial Times, Gideon Rachman suggested Trump and his advisers believe the ‘Judeo-Christian’ world is in a struggle for survival with radical Islam. That would make Putin look ‘more like a friend than a foe’. In his inaugural address Trump notably promised to defend ‘the civilised world’ — not ‘the free world’.

Putting more in

This is welcome realism, say some. The USA and Russia are dealing with the world as it is and advancing common interests. They will put necessary focus on destroying Islamic State. The years of mutual hostility have been counter-productive: Putin has simply grown stronger and stoked anti-US feeling at home.

How depressing, others respond. These two bullies are ganging up, threatening freedom and peace in Europe and the Middle East. America will prop up awful regimes and apologise for Russian war crimes, just to defend a warped view of its national interest. And Trump, like the last two presidents, will find that Putin sees the USA as an adversary.

You Decide

  1. Are you surprised that the image above this article went viral?
  2. Should the USA build a closer relationship with Russia?

Activities

  1. Play a game of word association. You have 30 seconds to write down every word you can think of when you hear ‘the USA’. Then do the same with ‘Russia’. Discuss: how similar do you think the two countries are?
  2. Find out more about an incident in the history of US-Russian relations that interests you. Prepare a two-minute talk to your class explaining what happened and why.

Some People Say...

“Leaders should put principles over power.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Isn’t this all just a couple of powerful men arguing over remote issues?
Decisions taken by Trump and Putin will have an impact on economies, societies and conflicts around the world. They will affect many causes you may care about — for example by making some people richer or poorer. They may also empower — or disempower — people who campaign to advance freedom and better societies.
But I’m not American or Russian. Does this really affect me?
The USA and Russia are two of the most powerful countries in the world — and their relationship has been crucial for at least 100 years now. Politicians in your country — who represent you and spend your taxes — will need to decide how to respond to them. What values would you like to see them stand up for? Whose interests should they prioritise?

Word Watch

Eastern Europe
Russia attacked Georgia in 2008 and annexed Crimea, a part of Ukraine, in 2014. It has been accused of stirring ethnic tensions in other eastern European nations.
Shrug off
In a Fox News interview Trump was told ‘Putin’s a killer’ . He responded: ‘We’ve got a lot of killers. What do you think? Our country’s so innocent?’
Cold war
A period of hostility around 1945–1989 between the capitalist, democratic USA and the communist, authoritarian USSR.
NATO
NATO is a military alliance of 28 nations including the USA, Canada and European countries. Montenegro is due to become a new member this year.
Nationalism
An ideology promoting national interest based on extreme patriotism.
Protectionism
Placing tariffs on and obstructing imports, to shield domestic industry from competition.
Social
Last week Putin approved a law partially decriminalising domestic violence, shocking many.
Christian
Putin is a supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church; Trump has declared his support for the pro-life anti-abortion cause, and chose his vice-president, Mike Pence, from the US Christian right.

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