Putin is Bust So Who Won the Pot?
If Putin is the world's puppet master he's not doing very well. Russia's economy has been in crisis since 2014, with no end in sight. The Kremlin has been in the doldrums for two reasons: the continued decline in oil prices and economic sanctions imposed on Moscow for its incursions into Ukraine.
Trends have worsened rather than gotten better. Initial hopes the Trump administration would cut Russia some slack were dashed. "Enormous amounts of money have flowed in and out of Russia over the past several months as oil prices and U.S. policies turned from favorable to seemingly unfavorable".
Markets began to doubt the certainty that Trump would shift policy on Russia and President Obama in January extended sanctions, set to expire in March, until March 2018. The European Council had already extended its economic sanctions against Russia until July 31.
In March, the oil rally also ended with a plunge to below $48 per barrel, near its lowest price since November, when OPEC struck a deal to reduce production. Driving the cutback was a 400,000 barrels per day increase in U.S. crude oil production since September and leftover excess from OPEC before their cutback agreement.
Putin has been forced to slash his defense budget by 25.5% for 2017. Jane's notes "the reduction represents the largest cut to military expenditure in the country since the early 1990s". This comes as Donald Trump begins a military buildup.
President Trump’s first budget called Thursday for a dramatic shift from the “soft power” diplomacy of the Obama era to a “hard power” military buildup, cutting the State Department by 28 percent in a slashing of foreign aid, boosting Pentagon spending by 10 percent and budgeting more than $4 billion to start construction of a border wall with Mexico. ...
Some of President Obama’s cherished programs, such as federal support for alternative energy and climate change initiatives, are on the chopping block. The EPA is slated for a cut of 31 percent.
Russia is facing a tough Nikki Haley in the UN, something that has left the New York Times baffled. " In recent weeks, Ms. Haley has condemned what she called Russia’s “aggressive actions” in eastern Ukraine, vowed to maintain sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and, in her Senate confirmation hearing, went as far as saying that Russia was guilty of war crimes in Syria."
Her comments on Russia have sometimes contradicted the more conciliatory language of Mr. Trump, who has made clear his desire to increase cooperation with Russia. Ms. Haley, by contrast, has often echoed the talking points of the previous administration, as well as the concerns of Republicans in Congress who distrust the Kremlin.
But the rhetoric is matched by actions on the ground. US troops arrived in Syria to support the impending assault on Raqqa. After an extended retreat before the Kremlin in the Middle East America is re-asserting itself again.
Worse the administration has been exhorting its European allies to spend more money on NATO. Though Trump's urgings were mocked by politicians who point out the Euros spend on "UN peacekeeping missions, into our European missions and into our contribution to the fight against IS terrorism" it nevertheless amounts to a call to arm against Russia.
It is reasonable to suppose that puppetmaster Putin would prefer 1) less US oil production; 2) lower American defense spending; 3) a free hand in Syria; 4) lifting of sanctions but there is precious little evidence he is getting any of it. On the contrary Putin is doomed if current trends continue.
If Putin robbed the bank where's the money? The problem with the Russian hacking stories now roiling Washington is demonstrating how any of it worked to the Kremlin's advantage. A proper conspiracy theory involving a foreign power in the last election should at least consider China, not just Russia, as a suspect. The Chinese at least would have benefited from cheap oil. Yet even here there are problems.
The U.S. China Business Council (USCBC) might be hard pressed to find friends in the Trump Administration. The DC lobbying firm representing American multinationals in the world's No. 2 economy released a report on Tuesday ahead of Trump's press conference, hoping, perhaps, to intercept the news flow with a more positive look at U.S.-China business relations.
The 20-page report serves as a talking points memo for big U.S. companies who rightfully fear their manufactured goods will be soaked with extra trade duties under president Donald Trump.
The golden rule in detecting conspiracies lies in observing what suspects did rather than focusing on what they are alleged to have said. Lobbying and influence peddling in Washington is a multi-billion dollar business. From the policy record there is no reason to think that Russia is the only, or even the major, source of corruption in the capital. It's not hard to believe there's mischief afoot in DC. The more interesting question is whether the Narrative is on the trail of the actual culprit or following a red herring.
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