What Exactly Does US Want From Russia? Pompeo Visits Putin Ahead of Possible Iranian Invasion
Evening with Vladimir Solovyov
- Mike Pompeo met with Vladimir Putin and Sergey Lavrov and called the meetings constructive and productive. At the same time, the new bill presented to Congress implies new harsh sanctions against Russia for the 2016 elections and the next presidential elections, just in case. Sanctions are one thing, but war is something different. The US deployed its aircraft carrier and strategic bombers to the Persian Gulf region, openly stating that Iran is their primary target. That's unwise, especially against the backdrop of the failed operation in Venezuela. Trump's very unhappy with Bolton, who was unable to topple Maduro. The Ukrainian case also looks rather curious. Trump is launching an offensive against Joe Biden, who might be his rival in the next election. In this case, the shady incident involving Biden's son comes in handy. It just happened to be that he assumed a high position in a Ukrainian gas company after Maidan.
Today, we have Ariel Cohen with us live. He's the leading expert of the Atlantic Council and a columnist for Forbes. I'm glad to see you, Ariel.
- Good evening.
- How did the US react to Pompeo's Russian visit, his talks with Putin, and Trump's wish to meet with Putin in Osaka, as it appears?
Ariel Cohen, political expert: I'd say their reaction was predictable. Those who oppose and criticize Trump said that it's yet another attempt to pacify Putin. Some said that Trump will be meeting with his commanding officer, his handler, as intelligence agents call them. But those are the radical ones. His opponents in general and the Democrats, in particular, say that Mike Pompeo used to be Russia's zealous opponent in his previous speeches. My close acquaintance Mike McFaul informed his Twitter audience about that. He tweeted that, knowing Pompeo's previous position, it's odd to see him standing there smiling at Putin. The Republicans are naturally understanding. Now that Mueller's report is a thing of the past, Trump and the Republican leader in the Senate said that it's a closed chapter and the matter's off the table. Now, they can try to fix US-Russian relations somehow. I'm happy that Pompeo traveled to Sochi and hope that it'll be the beginning of a hard, difficult, and complex approach, which was mentioned at the meeting.
- Speaking of improving relations, to make it evident that Pompeo could never agree on anything with Putin, another sanctions package was submitted to the Department of State and the US president. What was that for? To make sure that it all fails?
- Well, I think some parties might have an agenda like that. That's the momentum back from 2016. Putin was quite right about that. I believe that in order to improve relations, one can't sweep the past under the rug. The same goes for any relationship. If you had some problems in the past, you should discuss them instead of sweeping them under the rug.
Now, speaking of what Pompeo and Putin were discussing, I believe those are vital matters, and not just for Russia and the United States alone but vital for the entire planet. I'm talking about nuclear arms control. It was frequently mentioned on this show that there's only one treaty left, the New START. It expires in 2021. Russia and the United States, Moscow and Washington must decide if they're going to remain the only parties to the treaty or try to encourage their Chinese partners to join it. That's the key issue.
- I'm not sure I understand, Ariel. Aren't we going to ask our Chinese partners first? I just feel that China is such a great country that it would be wise for the US to talk to China directly, more so that all the recent talks between the US and China can be hardly called successful. It would be unreasonable to ignore their position in this matter. In addition, Congress suddenly presented a legislative initiative to forbid extending the New START if it doesn't include their list of strategic and tactical arms and China. Don't you think that's an odd position? Trump has his hands tied, so what's he going to discuss then?
- We see that Trump's communicating with China. They've been discussing the trade war the US is waging. Our viewers must know that last Friday, Trump imposed a 25% tariff on great volumes of mutual trade up to two hundred and fifty billion dollars. He threatens to increase the tariffs by another three hundred billion. That would be a serious blow to China. China says that it's ready to negotiate a compromise. At the same time, it's clear that President Xi can't afford to lose face or show that America imposes its conditions, which negatively affect China's sovereignty. America demands (and does so rightly I believe) that China stopped stealing intellectual property. That happens all the time to American, European, and other companies.
- We can't agree on a single issue, mind you. For example, once again, we tell you that we didn't interfere in your elections on the government level. And once again, you tell us we did. We ask for proof and you say you can't provide your intelligence data because that would reveal your sources. We're in a stalemate situation. Then, we propose to return to the basic agreement that was adopted in the mid-1920s. It implied that we don't interfere in your affairs and you don't interfere in ours. But you refuse to sign an agreement like that. In the end, American doesn't want us interfering in its affairs but is going to constantly interfere in ours. It was no coincidence that Lavrov submitted a list of complaints regarding America's interference in our elections. But the US pretended that nothing happened. There's no mutuality. There's no understanding. There hasn't been a single attempt to play fair. Your agenda is the following: Do what we tell you to do, whether it's in your national interests or not, or else.
- The world balance of power is shifting. Unfortunately, and to my regret, the US won't benefit from the changes. That's why when we're talking about non-interference. I believe that of all administrations, Trump's administration is the one we need. It's rejecting the ideology of crusades for democracy, call them what you want, and the value-imposing approach. America's already rejecting all that. However, there are various groups and communities in Washington, in particular, that will fight for their agendas. As far as I see it, Trump personally, and the White House to a large extent, even though not completely perhaps, stand for resuming dialogue with Russia, beginning with what's, in my opinion and in theirs, the easiest. I'm talking about reaching some agreement, for instance, in the field of nuclear arms control, because we have great experience we've been accumulating since the 1960s. That's half a century of arms control. There's a class of experts in both countries who are able to tackle that and know how to do it.
Speaking of other aspects, we've got no understanding on Venezuela. Pompeo repeated that President Trump and the United States believe that Maduro and his regime must go. Unconditionally. On the other hand, I don't see a way for the US to simultaneously be trying to oust Maduro by military force and start a situation in the Persian Gulf. That's obviously just pressure, not preparation for a big war. But that's pressure exerted by the US and its allies Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and others to force Iran to negotiate and reconsider that "bad deal", as Trump calls the Iran nuclear deal that Tehran and Washington signed in 2015 under President Barack Obama.
- And why is it a bad deal? Europe, Russia, China, and the IAEA consider it good. And how can Iran negotiate a good deal with Trump when the next US president might also call the new deal bad. Iran rightly says that the IAEA no problems with them and neither does Europe. They're the most inspected country in the world. But the US decided to do that anyway. By what rules are you playing? In addition, the situation surrounding Iran is clear, but why did the US withdraw its diplomats from Iraq?
- Let's begin with Iraq. I've seen reports saying that Iran and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq are going to attack American facilities located in Iraq. Right before this show, I was talking to a Saudi businessman who said he had been there when the pro-Iranian forces from Yemen attacked Saudi Arabia with missiles. Knowing the level of the Houthi rebels, I don't believe that the rebels did it. It was likely done by Iranian special ops officers located in Yemen.
In regards to the new deal, indeed, if Joe Biden gets elected in 2020... A couple of minutes ago you were talking about his agenda and his son. The latter's been earning $50,000 a month in Ukraine for the last five years. That's a lot of money even for a poor family of Washington politicians. If Uncle Joe, as I call him, gets elected, the US is guaranteed to return to the deal that was signed during the Obama-Biden administration. But whether or not Biden's administration will cooperate with Russia is anyone's guess. Remember me telling you back then that you'll be missing the soft and liberal Barack Obama? If Biden wins, I'll tell you that you're going to speak well of Old Man Trump. So everything's changing for the worse.
- What can be worse than this? Our relations are almost nonexistent. The next step is only war. That's that.
- We don't have enough air time.
- We do. If you take a look at our relations, you'll realize that we're one step away from open war.
- We don't have enough air time to talk about how both parties, in case it happens, God forbid, I don't want that to happen, can worsen their relations further. There are a lot of bad things they can do, including nuclear weapon proliferation, training more militant groups than they do now, and doing what the Soviet Union was doing when every one in two or three countries had Soviet instructors, specialists, or troops stationed there and blood was spilled across the world. Why do we need that and how much will it cost?
- I agree, but first, you need to take NATO away from our borders. That'd be a great start. But here's what you do: You talk about what Russia can do. But why not do it yourself? Those are your tanks and your infrastructure at the Russian borders and not our tanks and infrastructure at yours. You should begin by treating Russia's national interests with respect. Because Trump has basically stopped taking that aspect into account just as Obama did before him. But you've said nothing about Iran. I'm sorry, but we're perfectly aware that all those allegations about Iran preparing to attack American structures in Iraq sound unbelievable. It's not a coincidence many American experts possess a hateful attitude…
- A skeptical one.
- ...when recalling that the same rhetoric was used to justify a strike against Iraq. The same script is being used to demonize Iran. What will that lead to? There was a funny report saying that Iraq, where the US has been holding ground for years, requested the Russian S-400. Was that a joke?
- Look, Turkey was also requesting the Russian S-400 and now they're going to deploy them in Qatar and at another base outside of Turkey instead of on their own territory. The situation surrounding the S-400 is not as simple as it looks. Same as it happened with Erdogan, the US will be exerting pressure on Iraq, forcing it to cancel the deal. Some tough competition goes on in the arms trade, that's nothing new. But back to your question.
- But Turkey is purchasing the S-400. And if Turkey pays us for those S-400s, it can deploy them anywhere, even in our Kamchatka, we'd be glad if they do. We just need to make sure we get the money.
- Russia's relations with Turkey have been developing rapidly. I'm talking about energy cooperation, the four reactors at the Akkuyu NPP, whose construction was funded by Russia, as far as I know. Turkey will only be buying electricity from there and the TurkStream gas pipeline. It's all happening very rapidly. Naturally, the US doesn't like that. Trump is going to visit Turkey. He's likely to have a difficult conversation with Erdogan.
But I'd like to mention something else. I'd like to say that, for clear reasons, you don't mention the way Iran acts in the Middle East, the way Iran supports the pro-Iranian militias, trains and arms them, both in Lebanon, where they threaten Israel, they've got 200,000 close- and intermediate-range missiles in Lebanon, they were the ones who trained the Houthi rebels that we were talking about, and in Iraq, where they have a massive Shia force. That's why the Arab states, the Sunni states feel gravely threatened by Tehran. They see that Iran is beating them in terms of technological development. Iran produces its own missiles and weapon systems. The Arabs are scared, they run to Washington to ask Uncle Sam to protect them from the bad Iranian mullahs. I mean, Iran constantly holds demonstrations under the slogans "death to Israel" and "death to America" and supports Israel's sworn enemies, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Movement. This escalates the situation in the Middle East even further. That's why saying that Iran is warm and fuzzy while the US bullies it and intimidates it would be wrong in my opinion.
- But that's exactly what I'm talking about, except that I tell the full truth. The Shia Crescent was formed after the US destroyed the Iraqi regime like a bull in a china shop. And handed over…
- On the other hand, we have Afghanistan.
- And handed over Iraq to Iran. The US made Iran what it is today. Since we're talking about who's arming proxies and does everything possible, unfortunately, Iran acts the same way the US does. The US also openly arms every faction that, in their opinion, can fight Iran. We have a good memory. Not much time has passed since Khomeini was brought from Paris thanks to the US, which was so unhappy with the secular regime that it helped topple the shah. Back then, Israel was ready to perform a series of actions that would've stopped Ayatollah Khomeini from reaching Tehran. But the US didn't let Israel do that. I'm quoting Yakov Kedmi.
- Were they going to shoot his plane down?
- I'd say that Israel knows how to fight its enemies and feels free to use every means necessary. But the fact remains that the entire collapse of Middle Eastern counter-weight politics was brought about by a single country, the US, which was acting like a bull in a china shop. It created a crisis in Iraq. It created a crisis in Syria. It created a crisis in Libya. And it's making a mess in Yemen. America fails to restore order. That's when we appear like a fire-fighting squad. I'd like to stress that we're the country that doesn't allow Iran to implement the majority of its hostile initiatives towards Israel. Russia was the one that made Iran withdraw its troops from the Golan Heights to an acceptable distance. We're not delusional about that. We clean up the mess you've made. We can also restore order in Venezuela, if needed. But as Putin says, we're not a fire-fighting squad to come up and clean up your mess every time.
My last question will be rather simple. What can you offer us? Pompeo comes here so it's clear what you want from us. But what can you offer us?
- I don't play any official role. However, I think that if it's possible, given the current political fight happening between the Republicans and Democrats in Washington, to rethink the last five years and think in terms of long-term American interests. We can say that in Ukraine there were political events that allow us to open some doors to some new understandings and agreements. I know that you'll say that Zelensky is a very bad person and oligarchs are very bad. Yes, oligarchs are bad. But if we don't use this opportunity now, we can lose our chance for another five years. We should try to figure out what red lines there are in Ukraine to sharply reduce the tension there, put no pressure on giving away passports as they're now trying to do, realize what Ukraine will and won't do in its foreign policy, and approach it in a calm manner. Stop escalating the situation and increase the level of trust and transparency in the deployment of armed forces, including the Baltic states and Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and so on. There was the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces, which Russia withdrew from. So, in the new stage, we should try to reach some agreement to limit conventional armed forces in Central and Eastern Europe.
- Hang on a second, this is something you need.
- We don't need it. Russia also needs it.
- Not at all. You intervened in our neighboring country — Ukraine. And when we help Venezuela, you claim that Russia should get out of Venezuela while citing the Monroe Doctrine. And you say: "Don't dare do anything in our backyard." So, dear friends, get out of our backyard. Then, this is the principle of reciprocity. So far, everything you say has nothing to do with our interests. We'll decide to whom and how we should give passports ourselves.
- So, Pompeo wasted his time, he shouldn't have come? You say, we don't need dialogue, right?
- I don't know what he brought. What dialogue? Is he a representative of Ukraine? What did America come to us with? Did it bring a conversation about Zelensky? Excuse me, but this doesn't make any sense. What does America want to offer us? That all of a sudden, it'll see that it has nothing to do in Ukraine?
- America should look for ways to decrease the tension. The rhetoric, which is in this program, on this channel, and other Russian channels, where they're constantly saying that America is the main enemy, America is an instigator... America passed a law adding Russia to the list of its enemies.
- America passed a law adding Russia to the list of its enemies. It isn't Russia that passed a law adding America to the list of its enemies. America did that. After that, America says to us: "Get out, you don't have national interests there." America says that NATO will be very close to Moscow. America says that Ukraine and Georgia will be accepted into NATO. And what does it want us to do? Okay, if you want, we can go back to Cuba. Is this what you want? Do you want us to go back to Nicaragua?
- I've just said that we can list bad things which we can do to each other during the whole show.
- So stop. You want to stop the Nord Stream 2 project. You want to prevent everyone from buying Russian weapons. You want Turkey to turn down TurkStream. You want Ukraine to be given to you. Wait. You aren't the only hungry person in this world.
- We didn't ask you to give us Ukraine. We won't populate it with anyone. The US doesn't need such territories. The US didn't annex territories for much longer than Russia.
- Really? And what are you going to do with Puerto Rico? Maybe, you'll give Puerto Rico back then if you don't want to annex it? Maybe, you'll let Puerto Rico go? You're now considering the opportunity to fully annex the unincorporated territory.
- Nobody needs Puerto Rico. They don't pay taxes there. They live very well.
- Oh, so that's it then? Ukraine doesn't pay taxes either. Half of the Ukrainian economy is a black market. And Crimea determined its fate itself.
- Puerto Rico determined its fate itself, too. It doesn't want independence.
- And you began with giving away passports to them. But unlike our passports, which provide all the rights afforded to citizens, the poor Puerto Rican residents don't even have the right to elect the US president.
- Thank God. The Republicans would fail then. Then, there would be over 1.5 million... There would be a few million voters for the Democrats. So, it isn't advantageous for the Republicans.
- So what? Note, when we talk about citizenship, we don't ask people about their political preferences. We say welcome. By the way, if there are Americans who want to have Russian passports, you're welcome.
- Vladimir, Puerto Ricans weren't citizens of another state. They weren't citizens of the Spanish Empire. They got those passports very long ago. At the same time, they prudently refused to pay taxes. They don't vote because they don't pay taxes. They don't want to pay them.
- I'd like to remind you about the tragedy of Puerto Rico. You conquered them first, you thwarted all of their attempts to free themselves, and then you decided to deal with them. That's why the history of Puerto Rico isn't a story about a homecoming, it isn't a happy story about returning to its homeland. I think that Puerto Rico will be surprised to learn that the US is its homeland. Why are we talking about such trifles? When did it stop the US? It's beyond reproach, a knight in shining armor, right? And that's one of the reasons we all love it so much.