Trump’s implementation of Putin’s goals

Developing story

We need to focus on actions taken by the U.S. that amount to Trump’s implementation of Putin’s goals.

With the day-to-day revelations about President Donald Trump and his and his associates’ contacts with Russians and their potential conspiracy to intervene in the 2016 U.S. elections, it is easy to lose sight of how pro-Russian U.S. foreign policy under Trump has become, and the ways in which Trump is implementing policies which further Vladimir Putin’s and Russia’s goals.

There are several different items to consider.

1. In the news this week is Trump’s temptation to return the Russian diplomatic compounds seized under the terms of the sanctions adopted by President Barack Obama in December 2016, in response to the major Russian intervention in the U.S. elections. Putin and Lavrov have even threatened the United States with retaliation if the properties are not returned. Michael Flynn, it will be recalled, urged the Russian ambassador not to retaliate against the U.S. sanctions, as Trump would review them once in office. Russia at that time did not retaliate.

It appears that Trump wants to return the properties with no quid pro quo, with the result that aside from expelling 35 Russian intelligence operatives in December as part of Obama’s sanctions, and adding a few individiuals and companies to the sanctions list, the U.S. will not have imposed any real penalties on Russia for its actions. These constitute a blatant violation of the international law principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state.

Restrictions on the President’s ability to ease or lift sanctions against Russia, without Congressional review, are contained in legislation, overwhelmingly approved in the Senate, currently making its way through the House. Trump has tried to weaken it in the House, but news reports suggest that it will soon be approved without significant changes.

However, if Trump vetoes the bill and both houses of congress fail to override his veto, he will be free to lift the December sanctions and return the diplomatic properties to Russia.

If he does so, it will be a huge propaganda victory for Putin, who will have shown the world that Trump is under his control.

2. In the eastern Ukraine, there are gathering signs that the United States might be willing to abandon its European allies and the Minsk II Protocol of February 12, 2015, in order to give Putin a settlement on terms Russia desires.

Rex Tillerson recently suggested that he might be looking for a settlement of the Ukraine issue outside the framework of the Minsk II Protocol.

The United States has appointed a special ambassador to deal with the issue, at the request of Putin<, in effect injecting the United States into a peace process that up until now has been run by France, Germany, Russia and the Ukraine under what is known as "the Normandy format" It is something of a first for Trump to create a diplomatic position and fill it in rsponse to a requst from a Russian leader. Further, the leader of the Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, has just set forth a proposal for the creation of a new state in the eastern Ukraine, effectively seceding from the Ukraine in violation of all of the commitments contained in the Minsk II Protocol. The timing of the proposal, by a Putin puppet totally dependent on Russia, is probably not an accident.


Andrew Osborn and Natalia Zinets, “Pro-Russian rebel leader in east Ukraine unveils plan for new state,” Reuters, July 18, 2017 (5:35 AM).

Adam Garrie, “DONETSK: Alexander Zakharchenko declares new state of Malorossiya,” The Duran, July 18, 2017.

3. The United States has just announced that it has cut off assistance to the “moderate Syrian rebels”, removing the last leverage the United States had to resist the will of Russia and the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria.

4. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has announced that the State Department is closing down its office responsible for identifying and pursuing war criminals. Punishing war criminals is no longer a mission of the State Department, which will come as a great relief to Valdimir Putin and other Russians who have been directly responsible for the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria, and who have been complicit in the commission of such crimes on a massive scale by the al-Assad government.

This action will limit the State Department’s role in identifying individuals who might be subject to sanctions under the Magnitsky Act. For the text of the Act, click here.

5. Tillerson has enunciated a policy that makes it clear that the United States will no longer exert pressure on other states to observe and defend human rights. In effect, the U.S. is shutting down its “bully pulpit”on human rights. Following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, during which he participated in a sword dance with the Saudis but failed to mention the country’s terrible record on human rights, a Saudi-led coalition imposed a blockade on Qatar in clear violation of international law. In his visit to Poland prior to the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Trump praised the government but made no criticisms of the country’s troubling record on human rights. In the last few days, the Polish congress has adopted legislation that effectively does away with independence of the judiciary in that country.

Significantly, in his conversations with Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, Trump does not appear to have raised any human rights concerns, despite the ongoing suuppression of a free press and public demonstrations in Russia.

In a word, the greatest beacon for the promotion and defense of human rights in the world, the president and governmennt of the United States, has been turned off. It’s power has been cut off. The light has gone out.

6. Exxon-Mobil attempted in February to float the idea of an exemption from sanctions for its oil and gas exploration deals in Russia. When its efforts were revealed in the press, the opposition was intense, and the Trump administration abandoned any plans to ease the sanctions immediately. It has now been made public that Exxon-Mobil also violated the anti-Russian economic sanctions while Rex Tillerson was its CEO. It seems evident that he and Trump would like to lift the 2014 economic sanctions imposed against Russia following its conquest and purported “annexation” of the Crimea, and its invasion of the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in the so-called Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. For now, the political opposition is too strong, and the immiinent adoption of legislation requiring congressional review before the lifting of any sanctions will pose additional hurdles.

7. The Trump administration did Putin and Russia a big favor in December when they eased sanctions on the import of cell phones and related technology by the FSB (the former KGB) into Russia. The modification was sold as a “technical fix”. However, it was a technical fix which enabled the FSB to continue controlling the import of cell phones and presumably making whatever “technical fixes” on the phones themselves necessary to make them acceptable to the FSB for use in the Russian Federation.

To this observer, it appears that Trump is anxious to please Vldimir Putin, and is doing everything he can, within current political and legislative constraints, to further the Russian president’s agenda.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.