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Saturday, 31 December 2016

“There is no ‘rispetto’ anymore these days, Michael. And when there is no respect, this might lead to chaos, as people don’t appreciate each other’s power anymore!”.

I look on Twitter at a picture of a small duckling, with the word ‘LAME’ written through it; a quite hard to ignore insult of the leaving President of the United States, Barrack Obama.

Next to the picture, there is a 137 character rant against the latest measure that this ‘lame duck POTUS’ took: to expel 35 Russian officials from the United States, in order to punish them for their role in the alleged Russian interference in the American elections.

The challenged tweet of the Russian Embassy in the UK
Click to enlarge
This tweet was not published by a Republican splintergroup from say... Texas or Mississippi, that attacks Obama on a daily basis just for the sake of it. No, it was printed by the official and approved (!) Twitter account of the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom: an account that is part of the direct responsibility of the Russian ambassador in the United Kingdom.

I don’t know if this is a new kind of ‘diplomacy’, but I do know that it is an aggressive kind...

And suddenly I see an image for my eyes of Marlon Brando in his unforgettable role of Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather, while talking to his smartest and most talented son Michael with his distinctive, whispering voice:

“Listen, Michele. There is no ‘rispetto’ anymore between enemies these days.

In the past, we had our quarrels and it was nasty sometimes. But there was always respect for the power and strength of our enemies. We knew that if we hit them, they would hit us back hard. That notion kept the balance intact.

But look at the situation now, Michael. We don’t respect our enemies anymore and our enemies don’t respect us. They make fun of us, nowadays! And you know, when there is no respect, this might lead to chaos and accidents, as people don’t appreciate each other’s power anymore!”

Of course, this “dialogue” is not really from the Godfather, but rather a (partial) figment of my imagination. But Don Vito could have said it about the current situation between Russia and the United States! A situation that is even more dangerous than the real Cold War, as the archenemies at least respected each other’s power and strength in those days.

Leaders like Reagan and Gorbachev, Carter and Brezhnev or Kennedy and Krushev knew that they could not make one step too far, or things would get totally out of hand really soon.

Today’s situation is totally different, however...

The Barrack Obama administration and almost the whole American congress, as well as the NATO leadership and some powerful figures within the European Union, have been patronizing and ridiculizing the Russian government of President Vladimir Putin on a daily basis during the last 15 years, with an arrogance and ignorance that was very dangerous.

As if they reckoned that the Russian government was so weak and corrupted, that it could be simply overpowered with a brisk portion of American bluff, bravado and ‘faits accompli’.

Remember the designated rocket shield against “Iran” in Poland and Czechia? Remember the careless flirtations of the NATO (and the US) with Georgia and the Ukraine, in spite of old agreements between Russia and the NATO countries that such would not happen?
Remember the revolution in Ukraine, much akin to a coup d’etat?

In those years the United States acted like a man attacking a grizzly bear barehanded, because he reckons that the grizzly is not intelligent enough to really harm him... Well, it still is a grizzly, who could kill a person with one stroke of his paw, so give it the respect and the caution that a grizzly deserves.

And it seems that President Barrack Obama is finding the truth of that popular wisdom out the hard way, as he is getting the same medicine from Russia... in an even bigger dose.

Whether people like it or not, it seemed that Vladimir Putin turned the situation in Syria totally upside down, when he came with his army to the rescue for his ‘friend’ Bashar al-Assad. And now there is suddenly an end looming for the nearly six year old civil war in Syria, while the Russian interests overthere are more certain than ever before. In the meantime the American army is entangled in a web with various rebel groups, who all prove to be more or less akin to either Al Qaida or ISIS. The Americans could now almost be accused of keeping this civil war alive, instead of stopping it.

At the same time the relations between Russia and strategic NATO member(!) Turkey have been improving rapidly, after their dramatic low in 2015 when the Turkish government downed a Russian jet fighter. The governments of Russia and Turkey understand that they are two birds of a feather, which have more in common in their particular situation, than that Turkey has in common with the Western world – in spite of its prominent importance for the NATO alliance.

On top of that, if the American accusations about the alleged Russian cyber attacks against powerplants and other strategic American assets are true indeed, as a slightly hyperbolic Senator John McCain stated, it could prove that Vladimir Putin and his henchmen have also in this situation the better deck of cards (even though I of course don’t approve such attacks by the Russians).

Where the Americans traditionally boasted about them having the upper hand in every terrain of warfare – on the real battlefield, but also online –  the Russians might have proved that they could achieve the same or better results with a fraction of the American budget.

And now – in 2016 – Vladimir Putin has shown to the world that he could shamelessly interfere with the American presidential elections, knowing that the democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was already a sitting duck, with little popularity and – even worse – almost no credibility(!) among the American population.

The winning candidate of the American elections Donald Trump, even though he was despised in the rest of the western world, has shown already that he is more a friend of Russia and on top of that a personal admirer of Vladimir Putin, who he considers to be very strong, decisive and intelligent. This also adds to the strength and self-confidence of Vladimir Putin at this moment.

In fact Trump is even more a supporter of Vladimir Putin than he supports the current president Barrack Obama; while that might be treason to the eyes of many Americans, it is a fact of life that works enormously on the lame duck image that Barrack Obama now possesses.  

Suffice it to say, however, that this situation of mutual disrespect between Russia and the United States and its respective leadership is very dangerous.

Senator John McCain might be exaggerating with his statement that the Russian cyberattacks are an act of war. And the hardly disguised threats of Vladimir Putin of the past years towards the Eastern European EU member states (Eastern Europe and the Baltic countries), as well as his aggressive interference with respect to Ukraine, could be seen as a sign of relative weakness and lack of self-confidence.

But still think about Don Vittorio Corleone: “Without rispetto, things could start to go wrong, Michele. Think about that my son!”.

The stupidest mistake that both Russia and the United States could make in 2017 is underestimating the power and determinedness of their respective opponent. And Europe should be closely watching both parties, as Europe could be the ultimate battlefield for a quarrel that is the result of a lack of respect and cautiousness.

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