Putin’s shock therapy may help Trump bury the Russia story

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A Russian flag flies in front of the US embassy building in Moscow on July 28, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Tatyana Makeyeva

Electroconvulsive therapy, commonly referred to as shock treatment, is a part of psychiatric treatment whereby seizures are electrically induced as a last line of intervention for patients with major depressive disorder or mania. Statistically, a round of ECT has proved to be effective with 50% of patients with treatment-resistant major mental disorder.

In inter-state relations, too, ECT comes useful in the toolbox of diplomacy. The Kremlin just administered shock treatment to the US establishment with its demand that the US must cut 755 diplomatic personnel the largest ever such act in the history of international relations.

The ECT is usually administered only with the informed consent of the patient but Moscow may have done it unilaterally – albeit with several clear warnings and with good intentions.

Of course, the circumstances are exceptional – other treatments have failed and an emergency has arisen with the potential suicide by the patient. The bill passed by Congress on Russia sanctions is already dispatched to the Oval Office for President Trump’s signature.

The Russian expulsion can cripple the functioning of the US embassy in Moscow and its consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok. But that is unlikely to have been President Vladimir Putin’s intention.

Putin had no choice and he has admitted it openly. The legislation by the US Congress branding Russia as part of the ‘Axis of Evil’ signals that a severe life-threatening condition of stupor and hallucinations has gripped America’s political class and a rapid, definitive response is needed.

But in the process, Putin may have also disoriented Robert Mueller whose inquiry into President Donald Trump’s Russia connection now seems redundant. After all, if Trump is a Russian stooge, Putin should have been discreet.

Logically, Trump should now turn around and ask the venerable lawmakers on the Hill for some practical advice. Should he simply comply with the reduction of 755 embassy personnel, the majority of whom are Russian, or should he negotiate a modus vivendi with the Kremlin?

Indeed, there are incipient signs that the worm is turning in the Washington Beltway.

The Washington Post carried a tantalising report three days ago that for all the “breathless hype” over the Russian collusion story, and notwithstanding the “on-air furrowed furrows and the not-so-veiled hopes that this could be Watergate”, the Congressional testimony by the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner last week has “made Democrats and many in the (American) media come to the realization that the collusion they were counting on just isn’t there.”

The Post explains:

Kushner’s clear, precise and convincing account of what really occurred during the campaign and after the election has left many of President Trump’s loudest enemies trying to quietly back out of the room unnoticed. Cable news airtime and in-print word count dedicated to the nonexistent collusion story appear to be dwindling. Democrats and their allies in the media seem less eager to talk about it. Democrats and their allies in the media seem less eager to talk about it… They are stammering. And it hasn’t taken long for news producers and editors to realize that the story is fading. At last, the story that never was is not happening.

No doubt the issue will continue to be irresistible to some of Trump’s haters. Some will never believe the truth, no matter what else is revealed. But if Democrats and the president’s worst enemies can begin to silently acknowledge the obvious and move on, perhaps Trump can, too… Maybe he [Trump] will let special counsel Robert S. Mueller III quietly do his job and the whole “Russian collusion” affair won’t even be a footnote in the retelling of the story of the Trump campaign.

This may sound incredible. But then, the 140-year old newspaper could well be the first to know that the story is slipping away.

Indeed, Putin struck with immaculate timing – sensing that the tide is turning, finally, for the Trump presidency. Being  a Black Belt in judo, his reflexes are very sharp.

The White House says that Trump intends to sign the bill sanctioning Russia. But the ground beneath the feet has shifted dramatically.

Do the lawmakers on the Hill who passed the bill with near-unanimity still crave for punishing Moscow, still wanting the legislation to become law when the ‘Russian collusion’ story itself turns out to be a fairy tale?

Putin may have given Trump a splendid reason to turn down the bill and send it back to the Congress for reconsideration. The US establishment – especially the ‘deep state’ – does not want the reduction of 755 embassy personnel in Russia.

In the ultimate analysis, this bill will hurt US interests more than its intended target’s. There is no running away from the reality anymore that the US lacks the capacity to dictate global governance. It needs the cooperation of other countries, especially Russia, for securing its vital interests on multiple fronts.

If Trump were to sign the bill into law and kickstart a fresh round of sanctions and counter-sanctions, the Russian-American relationship will nosedive and touch a flashpoint. Simply put, that is inconceivable.

By giving a shock therapy, Putin hopes that America’s political class will come out of its dysphoria and re-engage with life rationally.

Knowing Putin, he means no harm. The generous timeline – September 1 – gives ample space for rethink and course correction. His intention is still to seek a constructive engagement with the US.

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