We first discuss the sanctions, and Tara says that it is very difficult to determine how long they will last for. She indicates that there seems to be an increasing tension between the bellicose US and the EU which is beginning to react quite strongly to the potential impact of US-led sanctions on various European led business. Mary says that there is an interesting recent development: "When the US Congress increased sanctions on Russia, in a way that represented the first break, because it was almost counter-productive. Up until then everybody on both sides of the Atlantic had been terribly proud in their own way about how solid the sanctions front had held up. First of all, there was a lot of criticism from Europe saying that America was riding roughshod over European interests, and the other thing was that this was an excuse for those European countries that were less enthusiastic about sanctions to start agitating to have them softened or reduced or at least to have some conditions as to when and how they are reduced. With Brexit, and the British leaving the EU; Britain has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for sanctions, and without Britain continually going on about the need to keep a united front on sanctions, that means that there will start to be more flexibility when sanctions are looked at, within the EU."
Both guests say that the average person on the street in the EU seems to be unaware that sanctions even exist. As Tara said: "Certainly in Britain, which doesn't have an awful lot to lose from sanctions in comparison to Germany and other states, I'd be really surprised if most people even know about the sanctions. It's just not a live political issue. There is an intense level of anti-Russian information, I think it would be fair to call it propaganda, that we see in a lot of mainstream media, but even despite that, on the ground, in the EU and Britain, there‘s not such a focus on Russia and sanctions."
East vs. West in Asia
Mary says: "I think there has been quite an interesting dynamic since Trump has become president. He has done quite a lot of globetrotting in his first year and he seems to have succeeded initiating quite friendly personal relations with practically every national leader that he has met, with the possible exception of some of the European leaders. At the same time, you have a very hawkish Congress which has always taken a very hard line on China, and a fluctuating line on Russia….China has been accused of actually deviating from what in the past has been called its ‘quiet rise' and accused it of making quite a few hostile and aggressive moves contrary to international security requirements. It has been interesting to watch China and Russia squaring up in Asia, and Russia, it seems, has been quiet over the last year. It has been active in Syria but in terms of rhetoric, it almost seems that Russia has changed its policy in a way or changed its methods and decided that being quiet on the international scene could be more of an asset than talking a lot and reminding everybody that its there. If you look towards the end of the year, it has been quite successful. …I think that there has been an attempt to keep the international conflicts out of Trump-Putin personal relations. An improvement in Russia-American relations could still be possible. This is an example of Trump keeping his end objective in view even as all these other things are going on around him."
Tara points out that there has been an understanding that western power is waning, "that has been discussed for about 20 years….there is a problem with declining American influence in international relations and of all the international institutions which were set up after World War II….With Trump, this is picking up pace, now we are seeing more overt European criticism of America so what some scholars have argued is that we have gone from a bipolar to a unipolar and now to a kind of non-polar world. There is the idea that there are several centers [of power], America being one of them but with no one main power to group around. So again, we are at the early stages of that….We have the greatest power in the world unable to impose order in the world."
Mary comments on the Russia-China friendship, "It is sometimes quite easy to forget when you sit in Europe and especially in the UK which is on the western edge of Europe, that Russia and the United States are both also Pacific powers, and we see this through a European perspective, whereas a lot of the action now is going on in the Pacific area. And to that extent I think it is interesting that Trump has not deviated too much from the line taken by the last few American presidents, I think even from before Bill Clinton there was a turn to Asia, we had the ‘Pivot to Asia,' that was seen to be where the future was. But over the Obama presidency because of all the tensions with Russia, there was a view from Europe that Russia was telling the West that it had an alternative. That it could have an alliance, it could cooperate with China, and it didn't have to tolerate very difficult prejudicial relations with the West….We have this Eurocentric view of the world. The idea that the action now is somewhere else is something that we haven't got used to….There is an attempt to beef up NATO a little bit on parts of the eastern front but I think there is much more noise made about this than actual military or defense dislocations."
Next Year and Beyond
As for the future, Tara comments: "I think there is hope in the US-Russia relationship. It was interesting to read that the CIA gave Russia information last week that allowed Russia to stop a dreadful terrorist plot; we are also seeing the whole Russiagate narrative collapse….We are seeing alternative narratives coming out about Syria..
Mary comments: "I think the confusion is going to continue into next year but I think thereafter there might be a bit of light on the horizon. I think US Secretary of State Tillerson said that the Americans are prepared to talk to North Koreans anywhere, about anything with no preconditions. It seems to me that that is quite big turn in policy. Which is actually a good turn in policy. If Trump is not actually going to act against Iran, then nothing really catastrophic will happen, and if that is how things look by the end of next year then everybody's done not too badly."
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