Alwaght- The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Russia on Tuesday to talk to the Russian officials in the resort city of Sochi. His trip to Russia at the present time has given rise to questions about the goals and the results of discussions with the Russian leaders.
The significance of the visit to Moscow
Over the past few years, Russia and the US experienced the tensest relations since the Cold War. Except for the Helsinki meeting in which Vladimir Putin met the US President Donald Trump in July 2018, the officials of the two countries have not had bilateral meetings, mainly since 2017 when Russia was accused of meddling in the US 2016 presidential elections.
Until the release of final results of Robert Muller in April this year, the allegations of Russia’s meddling in the US election and Trump campaign overshadowed White House’s policy and approach towards the relations with Moscow. There was a question that if Trump was real in his anti-Russian stances or his remarks were only for internal consumption.
Now that one factor that influences the Trump administration’s stand toward Russia has been removed, we can now see further transparency in Trump’s real approach on Russia.
Main Pompeo visit’s goals
Regarding Pompeo visit in the current conditions, we should take into consideration that the trip comes while the US is in a weak position and needs the Russian accompanying and support in a variety of cases.
A set of cases are now of top priority in Pompeo visit. One is the negotiations on North Korea denuclearization. Kim Jong-un of North Korea has recently shown a tendency towards Moscow. The North’s leader met with Putin in late April and cast his doubt on the real intentions of Trump administration for striking a deal with Pyongyang. The message of Putin-Kim summit was that Russia is a party with heavy weight in the Korean Peninsula denuclearization talks. Following the meeting, Pyongyang tested three short-range missiles, the first test since last year when Trump met Kim in Singapore for the first time. Some military experts identified the tested weapons as Russian-type Iskander missiles. This forces the Americans to bow to the fact that they need to accept the Russian role if they want the talks to come into fruition.
Venezuelan crisis also provides another case for Pompeo talks in Moscow. The US policy towards the Venezuelan government has been meeting its failure over the past few months. The recent phone conversation between Trump and Putin on Venezuela is read by many as a sign of the US president’s show of caution and even change of view towards the crisis in the Latin American country. However, given the two sides’ severe conflict of interests in Venezuela, it is unlikely that the two powers reach a consensus on Caracas. Following May 2 phone conversation of Pompeo and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the US intervention in the Venezuelan affairs an apparent breach of the international law and warned about the “serious consequences” of Washington’s aggressive steps in Venezuela.
Iran is also high on the agenda of the Pompeo trip to Russia. The Iranian military presence in Syria, oil sanctions on Tehran, nuclear deal, and its stance on the Palestine-related “deal of the century” are expected to provide material for discussion in Moscow. The US seeks to take Russia to its side to press the Iranian forces out of Syria for the good of promoting Israeli security. This demand has been rejected by Moscow repeatedly, however, with Moscow highlighting the Iranian presence’s legitimacy on the Syrian soil as it comes with the Syrian government’s invitation to fight the foreign-backed terrorism. Russians very well understand the significance of Iranian military presence in stabilizing the terrorism-hit Arab country.
The disagreement remains unresolvable on the oil embargo on Tehran. That is because Moscow finds a strategic partner in Iran in the future in the face of the US-led Western bloc. Russia is itself under West’s sanctions and wants to cultivate a strong global front of resistance to the US pressures. When it comes to the nuclear deal, Russia brazenly accuses the US of being a destabilizing force for its breach of nuclear deal commitments. Moscow has reiterated its commitment to the 2015 deal and has called on other parties to put energy to keep it alive, despite the US pullout of the agreement in May 2018.
Yet another case is arms control. The New Start agreement on control of arms that was signed between the two countries under Barack Obama needs to be renewed as “Start 3.” The US has tied conditions related to the INF to the treaty. A month ago, Pompeo asked Russia to bring to the negotiations the Avangard hypersonic missiles. Poseidon underwater drone, and Kinzhal missiles, the state-of-the-art arms unveiled last year by the Russian president to open a break with the old conventional weapons. Pompeo also wants China to join the treaty.
The US demands render a dim outlook for a new accord between the two powers. Which means Pompeo is not going to make so much out of his visit. After all, Moscow thinks that the two countries hold an equal number of the nuclear warheads which brings balance and so it should not give concessions to Washington.
Afghanistan is also on the discussion list, with Pompeo hoping to persuade the Taliban to talk to the central government with Moscow help. Although Moscow and Washington share interests in Afghanistan, the US increase of military bases and transfer of ISIS terrorist group from Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan for penetration and destabilization of Central Asia, Caucasus and Russian borders in the future is the source of Russian worries.
Ukraine crisis and NATO expansion eastward will also be discussed by Pompeo with the Russians. Ukraine separates NATO and Russia and Moscow will never show flexibility in this case amid NATO creeping towards the Russian borders over the past years. In this case, too, there is no prospect of an agreement. During the G7 summit of 2018, Trump told the leaders that the Crimea Peninsula is Russian because everybody there talks Russian. This marked a softening of tone towards Russia. However, Trump is engulfed by anti-Russian advisors, something making it hard for the two countries to reach close views on Ukraine.