Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to host a number of world leaders in the days prior to and including the World Cup Final on the 15th of July. Prominent leaders and political figures ranging from the DPRK’s Vice Premier Lee Ryong-nam, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, foreign policy aid to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Akbar Velayati, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Qatar’s Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, will all be in Moscow over the coming three days for a little bit of football and a great deal of diplomacy. The events culminate in the 16 July meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump in Helsinki.
Taken in totality, the leaders visiting Putin are all trying to both ascertain and influence Russia’s position in key geopolitical hot spots prior to his meeting with Donald Trump. This is demonstrative of the Russian President’s vital role as a geopolitical balancer between otherwise competing interests as well as the fact that many leaders find Putin easier to communicate with than his less predictable US counterpart.
But while Russia is hosting both football fans and geopolitical movers and shakers, Donald Trump has been at the NATO summit in Belgium which has been something of a rude awakening for European leaders who have still not fully accustomed themselves to US diplomatic and economic tactics in the Trump era.
While US Presidents have a history of using NATO summits to enhance US political influence in Europe while projecting power to the wider world from the European stage, for Donald Trump, the mission to Europe is all about money and lots of it.
Whether forcing European nations to expedite their commitment to spend 2% of their GDP on NATO with the added threat of forcing them to double their required contribution to 4% in the future, or more importantly using various European prejudices against Russia as a means of forcing expensive American liquefied natural gas (LNG) on markets currently enjoying comparatively cheap Russian gas via pipelines – Trump isn’t looking for Europe to go into a new war and nor is he even seeking to court respect in Europe. Instead, Trump is looking to “do deals” and he is very open about this desire.
This new reality is somewhat ironic given the fact that in 2014 arch neocon and Russophobe US Senator John McCain said that “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country”. Today however, it is the Russian President who is being courted by leaders from north east Asia to the Middle East in attempts to lobby their unique geopolitical grievances to a man who is clearly capable of addressing these issues from his position as the leader of a superpower. By contrast, it is Donald Trump who is using a would-be security forum to discuss how much gas he can sell to Europe based on the anti-Russian rhetoric of European leaders themselves, all the while implying that the less LNG Europe buys from the US, the more contributions for NATO that Washington will demand, ostensibly in the very near future.
In this sense, like any capitalism savvy gas station owner, Trump is trying to make the best of a market in which oil prices are rising at a time when European leaders have talked out of both sides of their mouth regarding a Russian state that they pretend is a “threat” but which they rely on for dependant supplies of competitively priced gas. All the while gas station owner Trump continues to remind potential customers that if they do not purchase his gas, he may simply charge them for the privilege of browsing in the forecourt of the gas station (aka more money for NATO).
In this sense, Trump has helped to expose how in an age where NATO’s original mission of attacking the USSR has been made redundant by the fact that the USSR no longer exists, rather than use NATO as an ideological mass-military to invade other countries for their oil, Trump would prefer to simply use most of his fellow NATO members as customers for American produced energy while sanctioning other energy supplies including both Iran and Russia.
Trump’s about face vis-a-vis the Clinton, Bush and Obama years is something of a shock to many EU leaders who long for the days when NATO was their chance to stand with the US against Russia, Libya, Syria and others, thereby incurring for Europe a perverse sense of militant prestige. Now though, this relationship has been reduced to a far more down to earth client/supplier relationship where there is little “guts or glory” but a lot of demands to “pay up or shut up”.
Taken in totality, it appears that when it comes to getting things accomplished in terms of geopolitical agreements rather than strict economic transactions, the Russian President is now the go-to leader not only for heads of medium and large nations but also for the US President himself who is about to discuss vital security measures regarding Syria and the wider Middle East with Vladimir Putin – discussions that Europe’s leaders were spared thanks to the fact that Donald Trump was too busy trying to sell them gas.