Trump Just Gave His Biggest Gift to Putin Yet
Did Trump Just Give Putin a Huge Opening off the Coast of Florida?
Donald Trump announced that he would reverse President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba, Friday. There is a sinister subtext to the decision that most of the American media missed.
Obama decided to try to a new track with Cuba, as the old guard leadership dies off. The Cold War policy of embargo had accomplished nothing but incalculable human suffering. The time was ripe for a policy that would allow cultural and business exchanges that might cause political evolution on the island 90 miles from Florida.
Trump billed his move reversing Obama’s policy as punishment for Cuba’s human rights record. Even Republicans noted that this was preposterous, since Trump is having a love-in with Saudi Arabia, which publicly executes people in grisly ways for the ‘crime’ of protesting.
As Trump decided to go back to the Cold War policy, several members of Congress, including Republicans, hinted that the reversal could be a gift to Russia’s authoritarian, Vladimir Putin. Talking Points Memo reported on several Republicans who opposed Trump’s move for various reasons, mostly because they view the restrictions on Americans’ rights to travel as archaic. But Republican Rep. Rick Crawford from Arkansas pointed to the geopolitical issues it raises,
“Further U.S. disengagement opens up opportunities for countries like Iran, Russia, North Korea and China to gain influence on an island 90 miles off our coast,” Crawford said.
Democratic Senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy went much further. Leahy described Cuba as no longer a threat to the US since the end of the Cold War, but still susceptible to Russian influence. In a scathing opinion published in The Hill, Leahy spelled out how Putin is actively wooing Cuba,
“Recent events indicate that the Kremlin may be seeking to return in full force. Last month Russia resumed oil shipments to Cuba for the first time in more than a decade. The Kremlin has again become the island’s savior amid a Cuban energy crisis caused by the chaos in Venezuela, its largest supplier of subsidized petroleum. This alone should set off alarm bells in the White House.
“Equally troubling, Putin has agreed to forgive 90 percent of Cuba’s $32 billion debt to the Soviet Union and has signed multiple agreements to invest in infrastructure developments and oil exploration. There are also reports that Russia is in conversations with Cuba to reopen a military base near Havana, which would result in a fully equipped signals intelligence station. A close military alliance between Russia and Cuba could have grave security consequences for the United States.”
Leahy goes on to describe how growing cooperation between the US and Cuba is already paying dividends, including greater business and travel opportunities and improved regional security. Leahy asks why Trump would want to “cede the playing field to Putin.”
Perhaps the strongest indication that Trump’s move can be read as a gift to Putin is the timing. The very same weekend that Trump announced his Cuba reversal, another melodrama was playing out in Washington with geopolitical implications. In a strong showing of bipartisanship, the Senate voted 98-2 to keep in place the sanctions that the US slapped against Russia following its invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The new measure prevents the White House from weakening the sanctions, and the Senate added new sanctions as punishment for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
Putin called the Senate’s bill “harmful,” and the White House immediately began lobbying Congress to water down the bill to be less punitive to Russia. Rex Tillerson, who as CEO of Exxon-Mobil had a $500-billion oil deal with Russia that was killed by the sanctions, argued that the Senate’s bill ties the president’s hands in how the White House wants to improve relations with Russia.
If these two events can be read as part of grand political wrangling rather than coincidental, then it would seem to indicate that Trump essentially gave away advantage for American international interests painstakingly cultivated by his predecessor, and left the board open for Russia’s next move. Meanwhile, Trump and Putin joined forces in pressuring Congress to be nicer to Russia. Perhaps the Cuba opening was given to Putin since Congress closed off the avenue of lowering sanctions for Putin.
Either way, the details of this move go beyond bad policy, and starts to look sinister. It starts to look like the White House is actively working against American interests.
Photo by Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images
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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.