What does Putin have on Trump?
The whole world is afire since the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on the 16th of this month. The joint press conference at the summit evidently put on display the peculiar obeisance of the "leader of the free world" towards the successor of "perestroika"—a post-Soviet strongman who wields absolute power in the largest country in the world in terms of geographical expanse spanning 11 time zones.
President Trump's meek submission on the issue of cyber interference by Russian operatives in the 2016 election is understandable since he is presumably the beneficiary of the string-pulling on a range of online interventions by US's arch-enemy on the military front. From seeding social media groups in aid of the then Republican presidential nominee to hacking Democratic National Congress email servers—the strategic cyber infiltrations and tampering, allegedly by Russia according to all security and law enforcement agencies of the US, tangibly swayed the elections along electoral college distribution, eking out an improbable election victory for Trump even though he received nearly three million fewer votes than his opponent.
What, however, is less obvious is why President Trump threw his whole intelligence team "under the bus" according to late night talk-show host Stephen Colbert on CBS, and gave primacy to President Putin's denial of any Russian meddling in the US presidential elections. From CNN to CNBC to even Trump's staunch trumpeter Fox News was in unison in expressing their outrage at this "unpatriotic" behaviour by their president. So much so that President Trump had to come up with a rejoinder of sorts saying that he misspoke at the summit.
American political leaders of all shades came out in droves to vociferously condemn their president's castigation of their traditional allies under the NATO compact while cosying up to their conventional foe having hundreds of nuclear-tipped missiles locked and loaded to strike targets in continental USA and its allies in Europe. USA has the mightiest military establishment in the world today leading a 29-member defence alliance under NATO. The only country in the present geo-political scenario that dares to challenge the might of the lone super power on the world stage is the Russian Federation—the remnants of the former second superpower, the Soviet Union. The fact that it was the escalating competition in military technology and geographical dominance that caused the economic ruin and collapse of the Soviet Union is not lost on the former Soviet KGB commander turned politician who now runs the Russian Federation. In fact, just a couple of months back in May, President Putin put on display a simulated nuclear missile attack by Russia on Florida—the 4th largest US state.
In this backdrop it is no surprise that Americans from the northern-most glacier-tips of Alaska to the Chihuahuan Desert in New Mexico are scratching their heads on what just happened in Helsinki and despite all the brouhaha why their president is inviting their so-called arch-foe on a state visit to the While House since such warm invites usually are only reserved for the closest of American allies.
There are all kinds of theories—from so called "golden shower" video tapes of Trump to Russian money funnelled through mobs linked to President Putin funding the Trump Enterprise—there is no end to salacious anecdotes making the rounds in online news sites and blogs. But for a man who has got away with far worse affairs as a turncoat politician it gives one reasons to ponder what hideous truths are lurking under the facade of mutual admiration and apparent detente between leaders of the two sworn enemies since the Second World War.
Russia is obviously tight-lipped about this whole affair and they simply deny any machinations on their part and why not—why should they jeopardise their strategic advantage in the current state of superpower politics. If any information can be gleaned from this sordid affair it has to be from the Americans. As President Putin aptly said when he handed a World Cup football memento to President Trump during the Helsinki press conference—"the ball is now in your court"!
Habibullah N Karim is an author, policy activist, investor and serial entrepreneur. He is a founder and former president of BASIS and founder/CEO of Technohaven Company Ltd.