What’s the difference between humanitarian aid and a commercial transaction? Easy. The latter involves payment; the former doesn’t.
However, when Vlad and Don get going, their double act is exempt from semantics. Witness the 60 tonnes of medical supplies Russia sold to the US yesterday.
It’s clear why the comments have been semantically slapdash: selling masks and ventilators to a country that can’t satisfy its own demand has no propaganda value. Offering them out of compassion does.
That’s why Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov felt obligated to say: “Trump gratefully accepted this humanitarian aid.” The little matter of the payment was glossed over.
As is his tendency when dealing with Putin, Trump happily went along with that propaganda stunt by referring to the sale as a “nice gesture”.
“It was a nice offer from President Putin,” he said. “And I could have said no thank you or thank you. And it was a large plane of very high quality medical supplies and I said I’ll take it.”
Trump’s spokesman confirmed this accolade by describing the sale as “an act of goodwill”. Mercifully, not everybody in either country was as eager to endorse Putin’s special op.
Brett McGurk, who served as Special Envoy to three presidents, including Trump, described the sale as a “propaganda bonanza”. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of US forces in Europe, commented that: “it’s a gift TO the Kremlin, not FROM it.” And Carnegie’s analyst Andrew Weiss tweeted: “This is nuts”.
Why Vlad activated this op is clear enough. Russia is under US sanctions, introduced after her 2014 aggression against the Ukraine and 2016 meddling in US elections.
Like a boxer who smiles demonstratively after being hit, Russia pretended for a while that the sanctions didn’t hurt. However, when the price of oil collapsed, and with it Russia’s major source of income, such pretence no longer worked.
Hence the mighty resources of the FSB/SVR were partly shifted from trying to subvert the West in every conceivable way into a massive op aimed at having the sanctions lifted. Portraying Russia as a global charity much given to ‘nice gestures’ is part of that effort.
It has to be said that Russian doctors and nurses, sewing their own masks and dying from a lack of protective equipment, don’t feel particularly charitable.
Their trade union, The Alliance of Doctors, wrote: “It’s just making a mockery of everything.” They didn’t say that charity begins at home, but the proverb would have been appropriate.
Russia, or the Soviet Union as she then was, has form in neglecting her own people for the sake of strategic gains.
Thus in 1932-1933, when millions were dying in the famine deliberately organised by Putin’s predecessors, when parents were eating their children in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan, when corpses lined roads and scavenging was rife, and when a loaf of bread could have saved a child’s life, the Soviets, in need of hard currency, were selling millions of tonnes of grain to the West.
The situation isn’t quite so dire now. But, though Russians aren’t yet dying in their millions, they are still dying in large numbers. How large, no one knows, except people whose credulity has been bought wholesale and who therefore are willing to believe any information supplied by Russia.
While Vlad’s position in this transaction is crystal clear, Don’s is ambivalent. That is, it would be ambivalent but for the amply documented affinity he feels for his friend Vlad.
Not only has Trump never said a single critical word about Putin, but Vlad is one of only two foreign political figures he has ever unequivocally extolled (our Queen is the other one).
It was over Trump’s tooth and nail objections that Congress managed to push through the package of aforementioned sanctions. Since then Trump has been trying to reinstate Russia in the G8, from which she was expelled for beastly behaviour.
Putin’s clandestine support of Trump’s campaign is a proven fact, which even Trump can no longer deny. Although the Mueller inquest was unable to produce prima facie evidence of any collusion, any unbiased observer of the Vlad-Don double act would smell something fishy.
The characteristic smell had begun to reach our nostrils long before Trump’s presidential campaign, when he had extensive business dealings with the Russian Maf… – sorry, I mean businessmen – and was trying to secure contracts worth hundreds of millions.
He clearly senses a kindred soul in Putin, which may mean ill will, but can also be the traditional useful idiocy from which so many Westerners suffer where Russia is concerned.
Trump is trailing Biden in the polls, and he may well lose in November – major disasters, natural or otherwise, tend to be bad news for incumbents. I’ll be sorry if that happens, for I think Trump is on balance a decent president, especially by comparison to the available alternatives.
Yet should he lose the election, his relationship with Putin will, as far as I’m concerned, make me a little less sorry.