In Russia, hunkering down over Flynn affair
The political backbiting behind the sudden ouster of retired general Michael T. Flynn from the National Security Council is worth watching.
So is the reaction from Russia. Kicking Flynn out as a security risk – complete with unsubstantiated claims of his supposed vulnerability to Russian blackmail – seems to be a calculated move to trash President Trump's effort to improve relations with Russia to fight terrorists. It has a look of the Cold War status quo reasserting itself.
For Russia, which is tired of constant conflict with the West, it's a huge disappointment. The initial response has been to lash out. Back in Moscow, one Russian politician was not pleased:
"The resignation of Michael Flynn was probably the speediest for a national security advisor in all history. But the target is not Flynn, but rather relations with Russia,” Senator Aleksey Pushkov tweeted.
Russians like that, with domestic constituencies, have no reason not to tell it like it is. Higher up, the response from the Kremlin has been to hunker down into a defensive crouch. State-owned RT News reports that rather than swing back as the Russian politician did, Russia at the federal state level is suddenly going quiet. The hilariously peppery, out-there Twitter site of Russia's London embassy has flatlined, with only a couple of sarcastic recent tweets about Russian hackers – nothing about Flynn. And up until now, they've commented about what they want to comment about, not just London-related doings. According to RT News, Russia's foreign ministry now says it considers the Flynn affair none of its business and plans to say nothing about it.
Foreign Policy reports the same strategic retreat. In its latest analysis, its writers, one of whom is Eastern European, pointed out that Trump and his interest in improving ties with Russia are immensely popular in Russia, with even the dissidents wild about Trump. Such a broad sentiment means high hopes – and likely a lot of disappointment as the Washington status quo reasserts itself. It also should give domestic political cover for the Putin government to swing back and defend the right of its ambassador to talk to Flynn. Because if you can't talk to the ambassador, whom can you talk to? Yet the Kremlin is showing every sign of pulling back as it finds itself playing the unwanted role of the bogeyman in the Trump-CIA-Justice Department infighting.
A Russian media source I talked to inside Russia just now cautiously says she really, truly hopes the situation will be resolved amicably. On background, of course, speaking only for herself. That's pretty funny behavior, as it shouldn't be that hard to go on the record to express such a pablummy statement.
Meanwhile, a gander at the untranslated Russian pages of TASS, the state government news agency, which chiefly serves to keep the Kremlin informed, quite unlike RT, which seeks to influence the West, shows that the story – of this magnitude, with Russia at the center of the action – was last night covered from its New York, not its Washington, office. It seems as though they didn't want to risk or perhaps sacrifice their longtime correspondents in the capital by having them ask questions about the matter that involves their ambassador. As Obama showed in his last weeks in office, anyone can be thrown out for "espionage'' with no evidence to back it these days. To make peace with the CIA, Trump's hand could be forced. And once again, they will be the bogeyman.
The whole thing is disturbing to me because it represents a wasted opportunity to forge better ties with Russia. Should it really be "poison" for Russians and Americans to talk to each other and say what we think? Why is it so taboo to talk freely with them? Flynn was ousted for that, and now the Russians are exhibiting their old paranoid behaviors and avoiding talk, too, probably with good reason.
With that the case, it signals that Russia being held hostage by the establishment, and it knows it, and it's all because the Beltway can't quite get control of Trump.
Editor's note: This is a corrected text.