MITCH BENN: America’s special relationship is with Russia now

PUBLISHED: 16:00 20 March 2018

The special relationship is between the USA and Russia now, writes Mitch Benn. Picture: PA

The special relationship is between the USA and Russia now, writes Mitch Benn. Picture: PA

Tass/PA Images

It is time to face the fact that Washington’s ‘special relationship’ is now with Moscow, writes MITCH BENN.

There’s an inherent risk in writing on the topic of the many and varied scandals and intrigues which currently beset the Trump administration; that is, by the time you publish something, it is a pretty safe bet that the Trump administration will find itself beset by an entirely new set of scandals and intrigues, such as might render any observations pointlessly dated, despite the fact that the pre-existing scandals and intrigues will continue to metastasise unresolved in the background. The administration does at times resemble some sort of hideous experiment to determine just how many scandals and intrigues a government can withstand without collapsing (the answer, it transpires, is as many as you like, as long as Congress plays ball).

Perhaps surprisingly, just at the moment it seems that the scandal that might actually do the president some lasting harm is the one we’d all rather laughed off... the straw that may yet break the camel’s back takes the entirely un-strawlike form of ‘adult performer’ Ms Stormy Daniels, to use her nom de porn.

It says everything about the level of shock-fatigue that has set in during the Trump presidency that while hardly anyone now disputes that the president did indeed have an affair with a porn star while his wife nursed their newborn son – a career-shattering development for any previous incumbent – the discussion of the case in the media thus far has consisted largely of parsing the small print about where the money came from. Nonetheless, where exactly the money did come from could yet turn out to be extremely problematic for the administration, above and beyond the toxic revelations still being regularly thrown up by Robert Mueller’s investigation into the extent to which Trump’s election victory was thanks to Russian dirty tricks.

That whole quagmire has taken a turn for the literally toxic these last couple of weeks, and dragged our own politics into the fray. At a press briefing this week, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders refused to condemn or even acknowledge the attempted murder carried out in Salisbury a few days earlier, apparently by Russian agents, of an ex-spy and his daughter.

This leaves our own government in an impossibly awkward diplomatic situation; forced to confront the prospect of not only an effective act of terrorism committed on our soil by a nuclear superpower, but the apparent toleration of, if not active endorsement of, this attack by the other nuclear superpower. It’s time to face the fact that this present iteration of Washington’s ‘Special Relationship’ is with Moscow, not with London.

It’s perhaps also time to acknowledge that not only is the Cold War back on, it’s slightly warmer now than it was back in the day. The whole question of whether Trump or his team “colluded” with the Russians to stitch up the 2016 election is worth investigating, but somewhat moot when one considers that Trump is colluding with the Russians right now. In plain sight.

Not only is he – illegally – refusing to implement the sanctions imposed on Russia for meddling in the last election, he is personally impeding efforts to stop Russia meddling in this year’s mid-term elections. Plans have been drawn and budgets allocated by the US security services to block Russian interference; they await only the order from the White House to proceed. That order has not been given.

It is unknown – and irrelevant – whether Trump is actually receiving instructions from the Kremlin; the point is that he’s doing absolutely everything that he would be doing if he were.

We have, as a culture (I’m speaking of ‘the Western world’ right now) been completely outplayed by Vladimir Putin. He has taken the single defining characteristic of western democracy – public opinion, and the fact that it still matters over here – and weaponised it against us. Russian bots have not only been found to have steered the tone of the online conversation in as anti-Hillary and pro-Trump direction as possible in 2016, they also meddled in the French election (boosting Le Pen), they are currently bigging up the hard-right parties in Italy, and they played their part in the EU referendum here.

Basically, Russia has never met a Western separatist or secessionist tendency that it didn’t like. It’s no coincidence that the western alliances (the EU, NATO) are being weakened and fragmented by populist and isolationist political movements, while Putin annexes chunks of some neighbouring nations and seeks to install loyal puppet regimes in others, mimicking the old Soviet Union’s arrangement. We’re getting smaller and smaller and more divided; Russia and its old empire is getting bigger and more united.

So there: as if we didn’t already have enough reasons to resist and overturn Brexit; it’ll throw a spanner in Vladimir Putin’s plans to achieve global dominance. That’s got to be worth writing some letters, hasn’t it?

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