Putin wants to end the damaging sanctions that have been imposed on Russia by the U.S. and Europe because of his invasion of Ukraine. The best way to do that is to break up European and NATO’s solidarity and weaken American resolve.
What are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s main foreign-policy goals? His country has a formidable nuclear arsenal, but its economy is weak and depends on oil and gas exports. He sees the United States as his chief enemy, responsible for having destroyed the Soviet Union and continuing to threaten Russia by promoting anti-Putin regimes in neighboring states. His first priority is to weaken the United States. Waging direct warfare is impossible; a better option is to use cyber warfare to confuse Americans and spread as much chaos as possible. Interfering in American elections is a good way to do that.
Putin wants to end the damaging sanctions that have been imposed on Russia by the United States and Europe because of his invasion of Ukraine. The best way to do that is to break up European and NATO’s solidarity, to pick off each country one by one and pressure them into accepting Russia’s actions. It is also to weaken American resolve.
Putin wants Russia to regain its place in the Middle East by inserting itself into local conflicts, cultivating allies, and helping them wage limited wars the way the Soviet Union used to do before its collapse.
Putin thinks this will make Russia the great power the Soviet Union used to be, and protect his own rule against potential domestic enemies by flattering Russians’ nationalist pride.
President Donald Trump’s main foreign goals are not as obvious, but a pattern is emerging. One is to break up the European Union, now labeled by the president as America’s worst foe, so that the U.S. can pick off each country, one by one, to impose trading relations that completely favor the United States’ economic interests.
Fracturing NATO is part of that goal. This policy is not just geared toward Europe, but also toward Asia by breaking up alliances and multilateral trade agreements to enable the U.S. to force former allies into a dependent kind of economic relationship. This is what European powers used to do in the 19th and early 20th centuries with their colonies or other weak countries.
European countries, however, will not be passive dependencies, and accumulating trade surpluses are not going to be possible if the U.S. tries to maintain its standard of living by running deficits, consuming more than it produces and borrowing abroad. On the other hand, destroying America’s multilateral political and economic alliances is also what Russia hopes to accomplish.
A second foreign-policy goal of the current Trump administration is to destroy Iran to please Israel, which sees Iran as its most dangerous enemy. Supporting the main Sunni Muslim allies of the U.S., the first of which is Saudi Arabia, is a part of that goal. This runs into a problem in that Russia has become an ally of Iran by backing the Assad regime in Syria. So, some sort of accommodation with Russia is necessary.
The Americans will not interfere with Russia’s interests in Syria if the Russians promise to curb Iran’s threats against Israel and Saudi Arabia. In other words, Russia and the United States could reach a deal about the Middle East that splits it up into zones of influence, the way colonial powers used to divide up parts of the world.
In light of this, President Trump’s recent statements make a certain kind of sense. Push Britain into a harsh break with Europe to make it impotent and dependent on the U.S. Tell French President Macron to leave the European Union even though that runs counter to Macron’s key goal of strengthening Europe.
Why are these current American goals so closely aligned with Russia’s? Is Trump afraid that the Russians have something on him? Is it just that he is willing to befriend Putin to reach the greater goal of trying to turn America’s allies, including not just in Europe, but in East Asia, Canada and Mexico as well, into colonial dependencies? Is he naive and psychologically attracted to strong, autocratic bullies? Do he and his equally aggressive top foreign-policy advisers (who all seem to know that Russia is an enemy) really believe that the U.S. is powerful enough to recreate the kind of imperial world positions that Britain had in the19th century and letting Russia have its own smaller slice of the world will help? Or is it all four?