Thursday, January 12, 2017

When the enemy of your enemy's enemy is trying to be your friend

I hope the poets are keeping track, because this material makes for great storytelling. While geopolitical relations have admittedly always involved an imbalance of love-hate/love-love/and hate-hate relationships, this whole rapprochement between Trump's America and Putin's Russia has taken things to a whole new level. Just working out the basic allegiances and interests is difficult enough, so one has to break things down to simplistic interpretations of each relationship if one has any desire to get a basic picture of what is happening here...

Of course, things just got more exciting on the Canadian side of this equation, as Trudeau has shaken up his cabinet, reportedly in an effort to build a team which is more 'receptive' to Trump. In the process, Trudeau appointed Freeland as Canada's new top diplomat, who will maintain the Canada-US trade portfolio. In some circles, this is seen as a statement that Canada is toughening its stance on Russia, since Freeland is one of the Canadians specifically listed on a Russian blacklist (of which she is proud). Freeland has Ukrainian roots, speaks the language fluently and has been a vocal critic of Putin's 'work' in Crimea. Meanwhile, Freeland is supposed to get along (better than Dion, at any rate) with Trump's pick for top diplomat - Tillerson. But Tillerson, in contrast to Freeland, is a close personal friend of Putin's. Oh, and he has been bestowed the highest Russian honours possible for a non-citizen.

Through his pick of Tillerson and of course other public statements, Trump has signalled an interest in friendlier ties with Russia. To the extent that these ties do indeed soften, it raises questions about shifting allegiances with a whole lot of other friends and foes of Putin - most notably Syria's Al-Assad (friend) and Turkey's Erdogan (former foe but now friend), not to say anything about those friends' friends and foes (Iran and Saudi Arabia).

Meanwhile, Trump's public statements and tweets have now shifted the locus of America's Eurasian whipping boy to China. The kinds of accusations that we'd often hear from Kerry and Power (and even Obama) about Putin now seem to be directed from the president-elect at Beijing, albeit with different content, but nevertheless through a similar accusatory tone (and one might add ridiculous assertions - Did you know that climate change is merely a hoax created by the Chinese to kill the American manufacturing sector? Ridiculous).

The very fabric of global stability is maintained by a patchwork quilt of relationships - between powerful individuals and nations and other organizations. The scary thing in all so many of these relationships are now flipping over like a line of dominoes. For everyone's sake, we can only hope that the rewritten allegiances and distanciations lead to some sort of balance sooner than later!

Update March 2017 - The plot thickens! It seems Russia was not keen with Trudeau's choice of top diplomat, and all indications suggest Russia is behind a smear campaign to discredit Freeland due to her grandfather's past (he was, it is said, the editor for a pro-Nazi newspaper in WWII; the Freeland family says he was coerced into taking a pro-Nazi stance). How all this affects Freeland's ability to do her job seems not to be the point of discussion, which signals yet again the ability of Russia's intelligence community to manipulate the public agenda and news cycle in North America.

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