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On Gorbachev, Reagan, Putin and Trump

Jul 06,2017 - Last updated at Jul 06,2017

Three days ago, I was standing in Moscow in front of a statue of presidents Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev crafted by master sculptor, Alexander Bourganov.

I was the only journalist invited to speak. I talked to a group of students and a younger member of the Russian media contingent.

I also spent an hour talking with a journalism student about her course and the Russian press and at the airport, in the Aeroflot lounge, I talked to one of the hostesses who turned out to be a journalism graduate.

On the plane I sat next to a Russian student studying in America.

In a quick three days in Moscow, these chance meetings (although one TV producer is a friend) enabled me to get a snapshot of what some 30 year olds and younger think about the government and the media.

Five out of nine were highly critical of President Vladimir Putin for one main thing: his overriding influence on the media.

However, there remains one TV and one radio network, and a couple of newspapers, that do not toe the line.

At the journalism degree course at the prestigious Moscow State University the students told me that many were disillusioned by the media and wondered about the jobs available that are not in the hands of the government.

I, in turn, remind them of what brought an end to the Cold War.

Reagan, a rightist who cut taxes for the rich and did little for the poor, was persuaded through his meetings with Gorbachev to start nuclear disarmament.

On one occasion, both leaders sought to find a way to eliminate nuclear weapons altogether. Only misleading advice stopped them from doing it.

But they managed over the years to make some significant cuts in their nuclear armouries.

Reagan said of the opponents to his nuclear deals with Gorbachev: “Some of the people who are objecting most, whether they realise it or not, those people basically down in their deepest thoughts have accepted that war is inevitable.”

For the first time since the Communist revolution in 1917, the press and writers of all kinds were free to write and publish what they wanted.

My new contacts, like many other Russians, Europeans and Americans, forget what was achieved.

The end of the Cold War was in some ways “the end of history” — the end of nuclear threats.

There was also large-scale military disarmament, the withdrawal of troops in Europe, more business and trade, more students going to the other side’s universities and scientific exchanges of all types.

To my mind, goodwill began its collapse when president Bill Clinton decided to expand NATO eastwards.

This policy was continued by George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who expanded NATO right up to Russia’s border.

Gorbachev had made a deal with secretary of state James Baker and German chancellor Helmut Kohl that in return for allowing the two halves of Germany to reunite there would be no NATO expansion.

Over time, the American and European media became critical of Putin — every issue once treated soberly became a confrontation.

In Bush’s time they began to demonise him, a process that continued under Obama, with him often giving the lead.

It all came to a head with Ukraine, when Russian “volunteer” soldiers entered its eastern provinces.

Later, official Russian soldiers invaded Crimea. This was triggered by EU negative negotiating tactics over a trade agreement.

It led to protests by pro-EU groups. However, they were infiltrated and subverted by fascist groups who turned the demonstrations into violence, culminating in the fall of Ukraine’s government.

This coming week, Putin and Donald Trump are going to have their first meeting.

As president, Trump has not changed Obama’s policy except in one quite important respect: he cut out the critical anti-Russian rhetoric.

Before he became president, he said he admired Putin much. This he no longer says. He feels hemmed in by accusations that his campaign was helped by Russia.

This has given the anti-Putin foreign policy establishment time to organise pressure to keep his pro-Putin mindset to himself, so far.

Can Trump negotiate with Putin and end the coming of a second Cold War?

 

If Trump is successful, Reagan’s and Gorbachev’s achievements will be remembered anew, Putin would ease up on the Russian media and my young friends would have reason for hope.

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