Buzzfeed recently had an article in which they reveal how Henry Kissinger has been lobbying Trump and Jared Kushner about cooperating with Russia to box in China.
The idea is to pull of the reverse of what Nixon accomplished in the 1970s, patching up relations with Red China to exert more pressure on the more powerful USSR.
Certainly a practical businessman such as Trump, who has no truck with ideologizing foreign policy, would be able to see the sense in this from the point of view of American national interests, and I suspect this may forms part of the calculus for his chummy relations with Putin. Ostensibly chummy, anyway. After all, this is what he had to say about Gorbachev in a 1990 interview with Playboy:
I predict he will be overthrown, because he has shown extraordinary weakness. Suddenly, for the first time ever, there are coal-miner strikes and brush fires everywhere–which will all ultimately lead to a violent revolution. Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader–and we should continue giving him credit, because he’s destroying the Soviet Union.
But although this is certainly a good approach from the American perspective, there are several intractable problems that make these dreams stillborn from the set-go.
First, the time to do that was in 1998, when Russians were still Americanophiles. Perhaps 2008 at the very latest. But Russians have had a deeply negative view of the US (and vice versa) since 2014. Public opinion might not count for much in Russia, especially as pertains foreign policy, but it’s not an entirely negligible consideration.
Second, it might have a chance if they were dealing with Russian liberals, who are slavishly pro-Western and willing to make unilateral concessions to improve relations, even (or especially) if it comes at Russia’s expense. It also helps that most Russian liberals are Sinophobes, which is a startling similarity they have with the siloviks. The siloviks, inured from business and technological trends, parochial, largely Internet illiterate, still live in the world of the 1970s where China is a Third World dump and unworthy of serious attention – as of 2013, there was a grand total of one analyst working on the Chinese military in the GRU – and quite a few of them are closet Westernists who resent Putin for banning from from foreign travel and making it more difficult for them to maintain villas and bank accounts in the West.
But Putin and the people around him at least don’t think in those terms – to their credit, they are at least “patriotic corruptionists,” not “comprador corruptionists.”
They realize that Russians would be stupid to hitch their wagons to the US, which is agreement-incapable and traditionally hostile to Russia, and is getting overtaken by China on metric after metric every single year anyway.
Almost all of the threats that China does pose to Russia are either complete myths or at least very much exaggerated, as I have often pointed out.
As I wrote back in 2009, China does not pose a demographic threat to the Russian Far East. The vast majority of Chinese in Russia are shuttle traders; virtually zero of them are going to be settling a foreign wilderness as part of some bizarre conspiracy redolent of late 19th century Yellow Peril propaganda to demographically steal Siberia from under the noses of the Russians. This is all the more true today, when urban Chinese salaries are now higher than Russian ones.
Nor is China going to try to militarily seize Siberian Lebensraum, least of all in the nuclear age. It is cute how so many alamists seem to forget about MAD when it comes to Russia-Chinese relations. I suppose the urge to see the two main threats to Western hegemony destroy each other is too much. In any case, China’s vector of advance is maritime and points to the south and east (Taiwan, the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca). Russia is its strategic rear. This is America’s problem (even if mostly because it chooses to make this it’s problem), not Russia’s problem. I.e. something that the brighter and more cynical neocons realize, as I suppose John Bolton must have recently done.
China does economically overshadow Russia in Central Asia, but given geography and relative economic size, this has always been inevitable (hopefully it can also eventually start taking more Central Asian Gastarbeiters). As I have pointed out, Russia has little except access to its labor market and its weird Victory cult to offer the Central Asians, anyway – whereas the US has its cultural influence, Turkey has an ethnic draw, the Islamic ummah has a spiritual draw, and China has offer more economic incentives. Consequently, the diminution of Russian influence in Central Asia is in any case inevitable.
Otherwise, the draw of China to Russia itself has increased greatly, due to its increasing financial firepower (its nominal GDP is due to overtake the Eurozone this year) and rapidly increasing technological sophistication (even as Russia itself continues to stagnate). These are important considerations in the post-2014 reality in which relations with the West are strained, and the main hope of improvement lies either in Russia’s capitulation, or the coming of right-wing populist movements to power in the West.
In reality, it is quite possible a Russia that swallows Kissinger’s bait will be one that can be bullied by the United States with even more impunity.
Finally, it is on some level fortunate that the Blue Checkmark crazies and Russiagate truthers themselves in any case make any such gambit politically impossible for the United States (and so removing even the temptation of at least having to consider it). They genuinely believe that symbolic concessions such as inviting Putin back to the G8 or dropping some minor sanctions are a “giveaway” to Putin and adequate reward for Russia torpedoing its relations with China for the sake of American interests… hopefully they continue with their delusions.