Trump has outmaneuvered Putin, just like he outmaneuvered almost 20 other primary candidates, Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and the media…
There has been a lot of conflicting information in the global press on the Trump administration’s position on Ukraine and Russia. Many on the left say Trump is in bed with the Russians—a Manchurian candidate who is going to sweep the West, NATO, Ukraine, and freedom down the river. The left, which has been in bed with the Kremlin, from selling uranium to “being more flexible after the election” as American power was drained worldwide, is hyping this narrative as hard as it can, as it is their last layer of defense against Trump’s (or the American people’s) agenda. Trump supporters say this is rubbish, and that the West needs to deal with Russia in order to jointly defeat the scourge of Islamic terror causing mayhem worldwide.
I would encourage readers to look at the situation in a different way. Yes, President Trump has an agenda. I would propose that the agenda is very simple—he will do what is best for the United States. He will protect her national security. He will rebuild her power. Only then can we again stand up around the world for freedom with any credibility.
There is one thing that Ukrainians must understand about President Trump. He is a master negotiator. He attempts to prepare the battlefield long before he enters the conflict. Before he is even at the negotiating table, he has paved the way for a successful negotiation to be concluded in his favor. I would submit that he has been doing this for some time now, even before he announced he was running for the presidency of the United States.
So what does this have to do with Russia and Ukraine? It means that Trump will make a deal with Russia if it is in the interests of America to do so. That means increased national security, less nuclear tensions, and reducing the overall threat level to the American people. That means providing the United States some breathing room to refill her coffers, correct her own problems at home—in short, to rebuild America and provide “peace through strength.”
In other words, for Trump to continue to aid Ukraine in its fight with pro-Russian separatists, Ukraine would have to show it is in America’s interest to do so.
The world must understand (and Trump has made this abundantly clear) that America is broke. We owe $20 trillion in sovereign debt. Yes, this is due to mismanagement by both parties; however, it is still a fact that America simply has to take care of its own house for a while. Our economy is stalled. Our growth engine is overshadowed by an intrusive federal government. This economic weakness creates military weakness. This inability to project power effectively due to financial issues has been felt around the globe for a decade now. Just look at the Middle East, the South China Sea, or on the continent.
So, back to the art of the deal. What kind of deal could be in the offering? That is hard to say. Every good deal is a win-win for both sides. What would the Russians want? Sanction relief and non-interference in their efforts in former Soviet territories would be high on the list. Stopping the expansion of NATO would be high on the list as well. Stopping American missile defense tops their priorities; this is what really scares the Kremlin. You could make an argument that it brought down the Soviet Union when they tried to keep up with Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ project. The Russian Federation simply can’t keep up in this type of technological arms race, and they know it.
What would Trump possibly want in return? A reduction in nuclear tensions and help in fighting the Islamic terror threat are most likely the prime focus. Help with North Korea could also be on the table. Trump also wants to fundamentally change the Iran deal to at least a fair deal, and possibly a deal in America’s favor.
In that vein, I think Trump has been prepping this “deal” for some time. His supposed praise of Vladimir Putin should be seen in that light. Putin needs an enemy to take the public’s mind off of economic problems at home. He has used the United States as a foil in this effort rather successfully. The Russian state media propaganda machine has ramped up for years, painting America as an enemy of the Russian people. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. If Russian attention was not misdirected elsewhere, however, they might think about school closures, inflation, hospitals, and so on. You get the idea.
Enter Donald Trump. He has said nice things about Putin. He has expressed his repeated desire to “make a deal” with Russia. How could Putin continue to demonize the US if Trump is obviously and publicly acting in a completely opposite manner? Acting in a way that it is obvious he wants to lessen tensions and not be Russia’s enemy? Yes, Russian media is restricted, but even they have heaped praise on Trump over the last year of the election cycle. Is the Russian public so gullible that they would essentially switch overnight and start calling America the enemy again? I think not. Trump has outmaneuvered Putin, just like he has outmaneuvered everyone else—almost 20 other primary candidates, the media, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, everyone.
He has put himself in the place of making a deal and with a better shot of getting real cooperation from the Kremlin. This was all on purpose, of course. This has been in his mind all along.
Obviously, the rebels in the east have been supported by Russia. Obviously, the conflict has been kept simmering for some time. The question now is only what deal will be made and how it will affect Ukraine.
This is the lens through which Ukraine must engage the Trump administration. If Ukraine wants US support, it should figure out how to make this support integral to the “deal” that has been on the table for some time now, albeit behind the scenes. It should figure out how to “enhance” American security through the survival of the Ukrainian state.
I would also say that some parts of the “deal” are already falling into place. Trump recently relaxed sanctions on Putin’s inner circle and security services. This tells me that the Kremlin wanted this very badly. If you noticed in his speech recently in front of both houses of Congress, he did not mention Russia at all. This tells me that negotiations are ongoing behind closed doors. This tells me he didn’t want to say ANYTHING that would torpedo that deal.
The stage is set for some type of arrangement between Moscow and Washington to be put in place. The only question is how it will affect the fighting in Donbass. Both sides have been ramping up aggression in the region, jockeying for position before further agreements are made on borders, occupied towns, etc. The Ukrainian army has been taking back bites of territory, and the pro-Russian rebels have been moving closer to Moscow. Russia now accepts official government documents from the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. These areas have also announced they will be using the Russian ruble as their official currency. Moscow supports this action, of course.
So, will the “deal” be to let eastern Ukraine go to Russia, along with Crimea, in return for Russian help with North Korea and the Islamic State in the Middle East? Will sanctions be relieved in this agreement?
It’s hard to see Russia agreeing to this type of scenario; however, they desperately need the sanctions taken away. In a couple years, the situation could be dire.
The bottom line is Ukraine and Europe—if they want American support going forward under the Trump umbrella, they need to find a way to end the hostilities on the continent in a way that supports the security of the American people. As Trump recently said in his speech, he does not represent the world, he represents the United States of America.
L. Todd Wood is an OpsLens contributor, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, flew special operations helicopters supporting SEAL Team 6, Delta Force and others. After leaving the military, he pursued his other passion, finance, spending 18 years on Wall Street trading emerging market debt, and later, writing. The first of his many thrillers is “Currency.” Todd is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and has contributed to Fox Business, Newsmax TV, Moscow Times, the New York Post, the National Review, Zero Hedge, The Jerusalem Post, and others. For more information about L. Todd Wood, visit LToddWood.com.