Michael Flynn who was appointed the National Security Advisor to the United States President Donald Trump resigned barely a month after he assumed the office. Flynn was forced to resign for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about his telephonic conversations with Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak (before Trump took over as President). He had apparently discussed the US sanctions on Russia for interfering in the US Presidential elections. Flynn had allegedly advised Russia to not act harshly as the sanctions were likely to be reviewed once the Trump Administration assumes office. Incidentally, he told Vice President Pence that he had not discussed the sanctions with the Russian Ambassador, to which VP Pence had defended NSA Flynn during his television appearance. Is Michael Flynn’s exit a large part of the narrative guiding the antipathy of the ‘deep-state’ towards President Trump and Russia?
Is the ‘deep-state’ targeting President Trump or the US-Russia relations?
In a sense, the both are being targeted as both the concerns are directly/indirectly linked to the Russian angle. Apart from the personal bitterness over the victory of President Trump, the ‘cold-war-warriors’ ranging from the political parties, politicians, military industrial complex (arms lobby), the intelligence community, mainstream media, think tanks and other interest groups who have invested their careers in maintaining an ebb in US-Russia relations cannot risk their control over power by diluting their relevance in the policy establishment. Therefore, they perceive that an improved relationship with Russia would diminish their salience within the system.
Is it justified to assume that Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail?
This is one the prime reasons being cited for the termination of NSA Flynn. President Donald Trump had advocated mending the US-Russia relations during his campaign trail. Any policy which is entrenched for decades in the ‘deep-state’ cannot be reversed without the preparation of a soft ground to avoid political instability. For instance, during the tenure of President Richard Nixon, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger knitted a secret web of his own visits to establish ties with China before the official visit of President Nixon to the Communist nation. This avoided the wrath of the ‘deep-state’ against President Nixon’s administration as the ground was prepared to smoothen the flow.
President Trump has been acting precipitately over his intentions towards Russia which is not in synonymity with the objectives of the ‘deep state’. Therefore, trip-wires are being constructed in the path of President Trump to deviate this policy narrative which goes against the interests of the ‘deep state’. This ‘deep-state’ wants to helm in President Trump over his pursuance of an intensified engagement with Russia.
Why did President Trump take a reconciliatory approach towards Russia despite opposition from the ‘cold-war-warriors’?
We should remember that President Trump defeated the influential Republicans first before defeating the Democratic Party, thereby alienating himself from the clutches of ‘the establishment’. There is a minuscule minority in the United States which is guided by the theories of ‘realism’ rather than the customary liberal-interventionist majority which aspires to paint the world with American colours. For this ‘realistic’ minority, China is a greater threat to the future interests of America than the dwindling state of Russia which currently holds limited abilities to hurt the immediate interests of America in both economic and geopolitical terms.
Is the hysteria built up around Flynn-Kislyak talks antithetical to normal practices?
For a country which prides itself for its democratic credentials, the Flynn episode looks exaggerated and hysterical. It is a routine practice for the diplomats to engage with the incoming administration in every country, especially establishing contacts with the closest advisors of the political executive. It is not in sync with the accusation that Michael Flynn has violated the Logan Act provisions by establishing contacts with the Russian Ambassador. It is to be noted that only one indictment has taken place under the Logan Act (Francis Flournoy, 1803 case) despite several serious accusations.
Why has President Trump not yet assumed full control over the intelligence community?
It is apparent that these secured data leaks have come deliberately from the intelligence community. Ideally, these agencies should be under the President’s control but unfortunately, the time honoured Washington tradition which proves that the multi-agency network in the United States (each having different agenda) has led to various push and pulls in separate directions making these centrifugal tendencies inimical to the interests of the political executive. But these centrifugal tendencies should not have arisen so early in a President’s term, which is the real issue at hand before President Trump. It is yet to be seen if President Trump would be able to retrieve the lost ground which has invited him the wrath of the ‘deep state’.
Will President Trump compensate the loss of face by taking a harsh stance against Russia?
There is an apparent change in tone of Washington with respect to Russia. It may be tactical i.e. to diffuse the opposition’s propaganda or to redesign their limited velvet glove policy towards Russia by focusing on the irritants at this point of time to commensurate their domestic politics. This change of tone is rather good for the Trump Administration as this would extinguish the fire of opposition for a while and bring stability in domestic politics which is good for building a ground of cooperation with Russia in the future. The ‘realistic’ minority of America wishes to signal a thaw in relations with Russia to delink Russia-China nexus. It is to be seen if the Russians fall into the trap or not in order to gain a pie in the sky.
Did the expectations from President Donald Trump already low in Russia since the beginning?
The Kremlin has not shown over-enthusiasm over the victory of President Donald Trump. Rather they have been consciously constructing their words by remarking that they welcome the intentions of President Trump to improve relations with Russia ‘to the extent that he is able to’. Russia realises that it is not an overnight process for an individual or minority group to manage a breakthrough in relations, given the fact that this animosity is entrenched within the system. Apart from the domestic opposition to this operationalisation of normalcy in relations with Russia, the geopolitical allies, especially in Europe and West Asia, would be inimical to the idea of a modus vivendi in US-Russia relations. Even if the relationship is introduced towards the road of normalcy, it would contain only limited areas of cooperation and not a complete reversal of the status quo.
Future of sanctions on Russia –
The US may review few sanctions as already indicated by Michael Flynn during his telephonic conversation with the Russian Ambassador. But the strategic sanctions imposed on Russia due to its actions in Crimea might not get lifted so easily due to the pressure from NATO allies and other geopolitical calculations.
Although it is too early to predict the future course of action of President Trump, it can be reasonably assumed that at least modus vivendi can be arranged between the US-Russia ties in the near future as Russia does not pose an existential threat to America in the near term.