Obviously, in such a hot file like a possible agreement of “Yalta” type between Russia and USA in the Trump age, comments on the Rachman scenario were numerous, many of them being very incisive. What we have to mention from the start is that most of these comments refer to such a Russian-American “Yalta” as an expected and self-evident fact, the positions expressed being especially related to the matters on this “bargain” which is specific to the great powers.
The comment gathering most votes from the FT readers was the one related to which the only criticism on the Rachman analysis was “your moral indignation at aligning with ‘the butchers of Aleppo’”, generally assessing it as “good”. From the manner in which the signer of this comment (MarkGB) motivates his position, we understand that he is not just favorable to the Rachman analysis and to its practical implications, but he is also critical on the West’s position in the Syrian civil war file, generally on its policy in Mideast: “We’ve been arming, funding and training ‘head choppers’ for many years. We’ve changed our ‘head choppers’ more times than we’ve changed our socks, to the point where we’re arming them in one country and killing them in another. So, let’s just drop the pretence that there is any moral high ground left in the Middle East and join together to kick the crap out of the people who want to wipe us all off the face of the planet…and then get out…leaving the Syrians to decide how they want to run Syria. Nation building does not work.”
Another comment favored by the FT readers is the one agreeing the Rachman analysis, excepting what is deemed to be “the usual caricatures and false dichotomies”, for instance, “is Putin an aggressor or simply aching for respect? I have a third suggestion: Putin wants a rules-based international order, not a R2P/ responsibility to protect/ free-for-all that has given us one interventionist disaster after another.” Regarding the Aleppo case and the “amorality” which the American – Russian bargain involves from the West side, this comment makes questionable analogies: “my sense is that the revulsion would probably be largely restricted to Western media editorial boards and neoconservative think-tanks. Most people recognize the Aleppo crisis for what it really is – a jihadi Alamo/ the battle of 1836 in Texas, the Mexican army besieging and crushing the resistance of the Texan insurgents – A.N./ The sooner the SAA/ Syrian Arab army, led by Damascus – A.N./ recaptures it the better.” Other comments, although they do not exclude the need of such a Russian-American understanding, dispute the terms proposed by the Rachman analysis.
The most appreciated comment by the readers, having this position, is the one rejecting the concessions of the West in Ukraine: “The problem for Russia is not lack of land, they need to grow their economy, just like we do, and quit with the wars all the time. So here’s the deal I gave to Putin: pull out of Ukraine, return Crimea and eastern Ukraine back to the way it was before, and we’ll lift sanctions. Pretty simple. Then we can get back to working together on a wide range of issues and better relations, growing our economies, which is what we all want.”
Another direction of assessment of the Rachman scenario is the one accepting the prevalent realism in its elaboration, but appreciating that this is “depressing”. Because, according to this principle position related to such bargains of the “Yalta” type, the lessons of the history are neglected: “Yes, it is very likely that Trump will drop the sanctions against Russia and will persuade all US allies to do so as well. But maybe he needs somebody to remind him (or inform him) that this exact same thing already happened in Europe not that long ago. There used to be a guy who liked the tactic of faits accomplis. He tried it once on a smallish country, and it worked beautifully. He then tried it a second time on a much more important country, and – WOW, guys, this fait accompli trick really works! So he went on, until the rest of the world came to the conclusion that a bit too many faits accomplis were piling up. And we all know how that story ended. One would hope that, after that costly lesson, no sane world leader would ever accept again to play the fait accompli game. But no. History repeats itself.” After Ukraine, is asking this reader, in the light of the history’s lessons, “What country will be next in line?”
Another reader invokes a cultural “fetish” that would define the Western way of thinking related to Russia, namely “especially amongst those who do not know Russia, to shelve the Russian state, its politicians, its foreign policies and even its psyche as fundamentally anti-Western encapsulated in a zero-sum game.” This reader appreciates that, in order to eliminate this fetish, the occidental Media has “to strike a more balanced, less emotional tone – something that isn’t rooted in the 1980s. Getting Russia wrong begets getting yourself wrong.” He is quickly answered that “the problem, unfortunately, is not about the West getting Russia wrong. Ask the journalists, NGO’s and relatives of those murdered by the state, not to mention its neighbors. It takes extraordinary chutzpah to suggest otherwise.”
Another comment draws attention on a different reality, namely the fact “that politicians are driven not by morals. They are driven by national interest – in the best case scenario. In the worst case, they are driven by their outsized egos in an endless quest for legacy and for funding from various lobbyist groups.” On this ground, the reader in question asks himself: “Would you expect Trump to be ‘more immoral’ than anyone else? I can’t see how can one make that case.” Although he accepts that a “Yalta” with Russia “would inflict some pain on some of the big back pockets, an average taxpayer would appreciate some re-direction of those much needed dollars”, he concludes that “both Putin and Assad, no matter whether we find them to be particularly likeable, are both elected presidents. Well, the US has elected Trump. Just live with it. Who knows whom the France or Italy will elect next? This is all reflective of the socioeconomic undercurrents – this is the democracy.”
In other words, anything happening in West is the result of some democratic Liberal processes, which we know it’ a very much disputed axiom in these years in which some analysts assert that the democratic model has consumed not only its efficiency, but also its force of attraction. The multitude of positive appreciations for “Yalta” imagined by G. Rachman among the comments has even attracted his intervention, warning that Lots of cross trolls here. No need to be offended. We all need to make a living”. Engaged in a discussion with the author, a reader who preferred anonymity accused by Rachman has performed a numerical evaluation of the pro and con comments related to the position on the article published in FT. According to this numerical evaluation recorded in a span of one hour (which was checked later and deemed to be a reliable pattern by this reader), it was found that “Over this period, those who support the stated or implied Rachman position (Anti Putin, anti Trump, anti Assad and essentially against any kind of accommodation between these) number 24. These see Rachman as correct, they see Putin as a threat with whom we would be foolish in the extreme to come to any accommodation, and they see Assad as someone who must be removed for any peace to be possible in Syria. They are, in the main, dubious about Trump but are not always clear where he really stands .I counted just 7 commentators where it was difficult to see which way they leaned, so I’ve counted these as neutral. Those who actively objected to the Rachman line /…/, number 30. This is deeply unscientific. I’ve distilled general perceptions and some in the ‘neutral’ camp may well have a stronger leaning one way or the other. But the basic count seems to indicate that the number of “trolls” within the FT readership now amounts to about 50%. /…/But there are always enough new contributors, on both sides, to understand the strength of feeling on either side. To dismiss 50% of the readership, at least where Syria is concerned, as ‘trolls’, seems idiotic.”
Undoubtable, the “trolls” matter raised by Rachman is extremely serious and can decisively alter the perception of the readers. As it could be seen on the occasion of the U.S. presidential elections, influencing the voters through their intercession or trough publishing confidential emails belonging to American institutions was frequently targeted. We will discuss about this issue another time.
*The article is a continuation of the series “Trump Era: The First Week” (parts I and II)