In the annals of Russian-American relations, it is difficult to recall a precedent for the Kremlin leader calling his White House counterpart to convey his personal gratitude and appreciation for the profound contribution made by the US’ Central Intelligence Agency and its director to Russian national security.
The great irony is that the incumbent Kremlin boss is a former KGB officer. Vladimir Putin never ceases to surprise.
The Kremlin readout of Putin’s phone call to US President Donald Trump on Sunday should be an eye-opener to anyone who bought the US propaganda that Putin is a demon preparing to devour the West – or Russian propaganda that encourages an impression to be formed among the naïve and the gullible that the world is carved into two neat halves, namely the good and the evil.
Countries like Turkey, Iran and Egypt – and Venezuela and North Korea – should take particular note that the world situation and the emerging international order are a lot more complicated than some among them would like to think. What prompted Putin to make such an extraordinary move?
For a start, the Kremlin senses that the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the US election last November is meandering aimlessly and may have to be wound up sooner rather than later. That being the case, a future is conceivable in which the tidal wave of Russophobia in the US recedes, leaving behind much devastation and debris but also the opportunity to begin rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Most certainly, Putin understood the great symbolism and meaning behind the gesture by the CIA to pass on crucial intelligence relating to the security of his hometown, the city of his heart’s desires, and the pride of all Russian people.
US President Donald Trump chats with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting in Danang, Vietnam, on November 11, 2017. Photo: AFP / Sputnik/ Mikhail Klimentyev
It all seems very much like strangers in the night exchanging glances. The key lies in interpreting the CIA’s gesture. The CIA signaled that it is once again viewing Russia as an interlocutor in professional terms and that, in its estimation, all is soon going to be business as usual.
The amazing part, of course, is that the CIA simply ignored the Obama administration’s sanctions against Russia. Putin has promised Trump that the Kremlin will remember this noble gesture and that if, god forbid, the occasion arose, the FSB will reciprocate.
Could the CIA have acted on its own? We don’t know what channel the CIA used. But Putin seems aware that Mike Pompeo, the CIA’s Director, took the decision. The likelihood is that Pompey spoke to the Russian ambassador Anatoly Antonov with Trump’s approval. Putin pointedly requested Trump to pass on his words of appreciation to Pompeo personally.
All of this occurred so very close to Monday – the moment when President Trump was expected to unveil the new US National Security Strategy. Didn’t the CIA hear National Security Advisor HR McMaster condemning Russia only a week ago, naming that country as a “revisionist power” that threatened the very foundations of the world order and international system that the US painstakingly erected in the last century after World War II ended?
Two phone conversations between Trump and Putin within three days resets the calculus. If the first phone call by Trump on Thursday was to thank Putin for the friendly references he made to the US in his annual year-end news conference in Moscow, the call on Sunday was likewise to convey Putin’s gratitude to Trump for approving Pompey’s initiative to pass on the vital intelligence regarding the impending terrorist strike in St. Petersburg.
Many signals lately suggest that some degree of sobriety is setting in, finally, within sections of the US establishment, along with a realization that Trump has been a voice of sanity all along in maintaining that US interests stand to gain by working with Putin and taking Russia’s help. More importantly, the Kremlin is sensing that Trump’s travails could be ending.
Of course, there are negative tidings, too. Only ten days ago, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson conjured up an image of Russia as the “enemy” through his three-nation European tour. And as recently as December 9 there was an altercation between US and Russian fighter planes in the skies above the Euphrates.
But to be sure, the “working lunch” later today in Washington between US Under Secretary of State Shannon and Russian Ambassador Antonov will be closely watched in places as far away as Beijing for any more sounds of ice cracking. Antonov was quoted as saying last night that the two phone conversations between Putin and Trump underscored that “our countries need each other. Our countries define the joint program of actions to strengthen global security.”