08.01.2017 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Russia Retaliates Through Non-retaliation

453423421231If anything the Obama administration is—if it really is an administration at all—its most apt description as well as appreciation should be based upon what it has achieved and lost in the 8 years it was in the White House’s Oval office. Starting from promising to end the US’ wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has ended up creating more chaos, precipitating more wars and causing more destruction than its predecessor(s). While the Obama administration continues to brag about making America stronger than before, it is also a fact that it has imperceptibly thrown the US back to the cold war era politics where the US policy makers would remain preoccupied with the question of containing the Soviet Union. Within the neo-liberal matrix of politics, the question of containment has slightly changed and ‘politics of sanctions’ has emerged, in the absence of direct wars, as the primary vehicle for the US to help it achieve its un-real and un-achieveable ambition of unilateral global domination.

By imposing sanctions on Russia for its alleged, rather imaginary, involvement in hacking the US presidential election, the Obama administration has made its last attempt, after making so many other attempts in the Middle East (read: the US-backed shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey), to invoke the cold war era confrontation and revive the ‘world war hysteria.’ However, it has not happened. Thanks to the prudent restraint Russia has repeatedly shown during all these US-manufactured turbulent years.

While the Obama administration’s move to expel 35 Russian embassy staff, close two compounds, and impose sanctions on top intelligence chiefs of Russia is virtually unprecedented in the post-Cold War era, nothing else could have defeated this act—and the support this act has been given by the corporate media and political pundits— so convincingly than the non-retaliatory response of Russia. Had Russia decided to pay the US in the same coin, we would certainly have seen a sad revival of bi-polar politics.

Needless to say, had Russia retaliated in the same manner, the Obama administration would have found a perfect excuse to blame Russia for all the troubles it has faced during all these years. This was pretty much the expectation and the US media were running teasers as to what the asymmetric response might be. There were reports that the Anglo-American School of Moscow, a favourite of foreign diplomats, would be closed. Country residences for the US diplomats would be shuttered or that 35 reciprocal expulsions from the US embassy in Moscow could take place. However, none of this ever happened and, interestingly enough, the blame for this too was put squarely on Russia’s some “disinformation campaign” techniques.

To the Obama administration’s disappointment, Russia seems to have understood the nature of this act by the lame-duck president as his last futile attempt to achieve a ‘face-saving’ exit from the Oval office. This understanding is implicit in the statement issued by the Kremlin, according to which Russia would “not resort to irresponsible `kitchen` diplomacy but will plan our further steps to restore Russian-US relations based on the policies of the Trump Administration.”

Most certainly, Russia’s frustration with the Obama administration is explicit here, forcing it to look to the president-elect to design better policies, who, unlike the Obama administration, has asked for the intelligence to show him the evidence backing Obama’s remarks on Russia. Clearly he is not allowing his political rivals to occupy his mind vis-à-vis Russia to prevent him from improving US-Russia relations.

Improvement in the current state of US-Russia relations is precisely what the Obama administration doesn’t want to see happening after their departure from the White House. There ‘game plan’, as one observer has aptly put, is to lay down the trajectory for the US-Russia relationship even beyond Obama’s presidency. While Obama’s exhortation to come to the barricades to confront Russia may not appeal the US allies (read: the EU has not decided to extend its sanctions on Russia), he may be able to construct a strategic environment and consolidate a strong domestic opinion by using his political capital among the elites and within the intelligence, military and foreign-policy establishment that might militate against any attempt by Trump to improve relations with Russia.

That is to say, the Obama administration is going all the way to undo the likely change the Trump administration is likely to bring. “If a future president wants to welcome a large tranche of Russian intelligence officials into the United States, he could do so, but we don’t think that makes much sense,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz was reported to have said. “If a future administration wants to lift sanctions against senior Russian intelligence units to make it easier for them to engage in malicious cyberactivity, they could do so, but we don’t think that would make much sense.”

Trump`s election, together with the appointment of what the US-media has called “Kremlinophiles”–including Rex Tillerson as secretary of state designate and the mooted choice of Thomas Graham as ambassador to Russia –has inverted the geopolitical landscape, making the ‘American pundits’ see a possible relaxation in sanctions by the next year.

Will this Russo-phobia benefit the US in the future? The Obama administration seems to have been blinded by the force of defeats it has faced in the Middle East and appears to be unable to reconcile to this reality. Obama has hinted that he will keep poking Russia all through to the very end on January 20 so that at some point it lashes out.

Interestingly enough, this policy hint has come at a time when Russia announced on last Thursday the truce between Syrian government and the opposition and their agreement to begin peace talks. This has made Obama, as one Indian commentator aptly put it, ‘look increasingly unworthy of a (peace) Nobel’ and worthy of being a loser and a ‘war-monger’ as he continues to pump war-hysteria at home and elsewhere too (read: elite US elite troops have been deployed to deter Russia aggression in the Baltic Sea region).

Sanctions and the war-hysteria the Obama administration is imposing and pumping is, in the nutshell, their response to the defeat they have suffered in the Middle East.

The Obama administration has been totally bypassed in the regional initiative to resume the Syrian peace talks. The stark message here is that the Obama administration was the problem rather than the solution in Syria–and in Russian calculation, responding to the “problematic element”, whose days are actually numbered, would only encourage it to cause more problems. Hence, the non-retaliatory response to the American retaliation.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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