President Trump stirred some controversy when he attended the G7 summit in France last weekend and suggested that Russia should rejoin the group. Trump’s critics in the mainstream media and intelligence community were quick to say his suggestion was a sign that he’s a "Russian asset" or "Putin’s puppet." The evidence for these accusations are nothing more than Trump’s words, a closer look at the President’s foreign policy makes it clear that he is no Russian asset.
The G7 consists of Canada, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. Russia was kicked out the group, known as G8 at the time, in 2014 when they annexed Crimea from the Ukraine.
At the conclusion of the summit Trump told reporters he planned on inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to the 2020 summit and said, "I think it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent." Trump blamed the annexation of Crimea on his predecessor, "President Obama was pure and simply outsmarted. They took Crimea during his term. That was not a good thing…It could have been stopped, but President Obama was unable to stop it, and it’s too bad."
Business Insider ran a story titled, "US spies say Trump’s G7 performance suggests he’s either a ‘Russian asset’ or a ‘useful idiot’ for Putin." The article quoted an anonymous FBI agent who said, "What in God’s name made Trump think it would be a good idea to ask to bring Russia back to the table? How does this serve US national-security interests?" Glen Carle, a former CIA operative even told the Insider President Trump was behaving like a "spy for the Russians."
Another unnamed source in the article was described as a "former senior Justice Department official, who worked closely with the former special counsel Robert Mueller when he was FBI director." This unnamed official told the Insider, "We have a Russian asset sitting in the Oval Office. There is no fathomable explanation for why the president said these things. Letting Russia off the hook for bullying smaller countries and then blaming Obama for it? It’s directly out of the Putin playbook."
When Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, it was reported by Russian and US media outlets alike that 97 percent of Crimea voters backed the idea of joining Russia. The common argument made by critics of the move say the polls were fraudulent or that Russian soldiers in Crimea at the time forced the vote. But a poll conducted by the Ukrainian think tank Razumkov Centre in 2008, found that 63.8 Percent of Crimean’s supported the idea of seceding from the Ukraine and joining Russia.
Whether or not Russia was right in annexing Crimea is beside the point, but the controversial move is not as cut and dry as these intelligence officials and media outlets make it out to be today. If the same standard of "bullying smaller countries" was applied to the US then the 2003 invasion of Iraq, overthrow of Gaddafi in Libya, and arming al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria to fight Assad could have all been grounds to throw the US out of the G7. But since some members joined the US in these endeavors, they were not seen to be as controversial as Russia’s Crimea policy.
Since taking office President Trump has supplied arms to the Ukraine, a move that President Obama was hesitant to make for fear of provoking Putin. Trump has even sent US troops to participate in war games with Ukrainian forces. It is one of the many anti-Russia policies of the Trump administration that are not taken into account when he is being called a "Russian asset."
Poland’s defense minister just announced that Warsaw and Washington agreed on locations to increase US troop presence in the country. The two countries agreed to add 1,000 more US troops to the 4,500 troops already in Poland. There has also been talk of building a permanent US military base in the country, which the Polish offered to name "Fort Trump."
The Polish could be taking a page from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s book. In March, President Trump officially recognized the Golan Heights as part of Israel, in return for the favor Netanyahu named a settlement "Trump Heights." The Golan Heights was seized by Israel from Syria in 1967. Recognizing it as Israeli territory is another provocation towards Russia, as Syria is one of Russia’s major allies in the region.
The Trump Administration has been especially hostile to Russia’s ally in South America, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Since opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president in January, the Trump administration has thrown their undying support behind him. Trump recently announced sanctions against anybody doing business with the Venezuelan government, effectively enacting a blockade on the country.
Venezuela’s economy is in dire straits. Despite who’s to blame for the economic crash US sanctions only make matters worse. The hawks in Trump’s cabinet have no sympathy for the suffering people of Venezuela and want Maduro out of power no matter what the cost.
The talking heads of the mainstream media use the allegations of Trump being a "Russian asset" to encourage him to be more hawkish in his foreign policy, especially when it comes to Venezuela. In a segment describing Russia’s support for the Maduro regime that aired in March, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria said, "Why has Trump been unwilling to confront Putin in anyway on any issue? And will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump ends his appeasement?"
The US officially pulled out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in August. The INF was signed between Gorbachev and Reagan in 1987, banning the US and Russia from developing medium range missiles. The US accused Russia of violating the treaty, which the Kremlin denied. US officials made the claim that they were not looking to start a new arms race with Russia, but the Pentagon started testing new medium range missiles in August shortly after the treaty expired.
On August 2nd, the US announced new sanctions on Russia over the 2018 attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK. British authorities said the two were exposed to a military grade nerve agent in an attack carried out by Russian GRU agents. The Kremlin has denied the allegations that it was a GRU attack.
The new sanctions, that President Trump signed, will prevent US banks "from making any loan or providing any credit to the government of that country, except for loans or credits for the purpose of purchasing food or other agricultural commodities or products." On Saturday, US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said the US was likely to toughen sanctions on Russia over the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Perry was speaking in Warsaw after a meeting with Polish and Ukrainian politicians.
Trump’s aggression towards Russia and the start of a new arms race between the two superpowers goes largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, while any foreign policy move that could be beneficial to Russia is put under a microscope. When Trump announced his unfulfilled plan to withdraw troops from Syria back in December 2018, the allegation that he was doing Putin’s bidding was one of the most common critiques. The outrage over the announcement came from all sides, and hopes of US withdrawal from Syria are now dim.
The US public is being bombarded by stories like the one from Business Insider, full of quotes from FBI and CIA agents calling Trump an "asset", a "puppet" and a "spy" for Russia. And the unsubstantiated claim that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election is parroted as fact by most media outlets. This new cold war could lead to proxy wars in Venezuela or the Ukraine, and any effort by the president towards peace or diplomacy will be pointed to as evidence that he is a "Russian asset."
Dave DeCamp is assistant editor at Antiwar.com and a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn NY, focusing on US foreign policy and wars. He is on Twitter at @decampdave.