Tag Archives: Russia

Political Competition– A First Glance at Trump’s Midterm Prospects

 

The Russians are coming! The Democrats are coming! Accusations, challenges and prospective scandals are all very much part of the current political vocabulary in Washington D.C.. But how will this translate into political gains and losses for both President Trump and the Republican Party at the upcoming midterm elections.

To recap, midterm elections are U.S. general elections that are held two years after the election for president. Up for election are members of the United States Congress, including all 435 seats of the House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate. At first glance, the Republicans stand a good chance of keeping a Senate majority; 26 of the 34 seats up for grabs are Democrat[1] which of course they will all need to hold onto before tackling Republican opposition in the remaining 8 seats. The House of Representatives is perhaps the one to watch with many Republican incumbents retiring and poll ratings being neck and neck at the moment.[2]

Russian meddling in the U.S. election will be a prominent factor of the Democrat attack. With Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicting 13 Russians for disruption of the 2016 presidential election, these accusations have all of a sudden become very real and tangible.[3] However, the Democrat’s have yet to come close to the smoking gun they so desperately seek; proof that Donald Trump was actively and consciously involved in this assault on democracy. The CIA fears that both Russia and China will interfere in the midterms but this won’t necessarily hurt Trump or the Republicans in congress with ties to him. CIA chief Mike Pompeo, a Trump ally, worries about the Russians but at the same time stands behind Trump’s engagement with the issue and involvement in its prevention: “he is curious about the facts that we present. He is curious in the sense he wants to understand why we believe them.”[4] Therefore, without further evidence or advancement of the investigation before November, Trump may not stand to be damaged from this. On the contrary, his accusations of a ‘witch hunt’ and ‘hoax’ may resonate with voters, damaging Democrat credibility.

So, if the charge of collusion with Russia is taken out of the equation, why have the Democrats made gains in recent local elections? Linda Belcher, a Democrat, won the special election for a Kentucky House District a few days ago. This win represents the 37th Republican-held state legislative seat to fall to the Democrats since Trump took office.[5] Surely, this symbolises a Democrat resurgence and a vote of no confidence in the president? Well, not necessarily. The ‘Trump effect’ may have galvanised  increased volunteer activity that has edged Democrat candidates to victory but many of these candidates have campaigned on very local issues (For example, in Virginia it was fixing local traffic problems and in Oklahoma, one stressed shortened school hours).[6] When it comes to national, midterm elections, these Democrat advances may not be the best indicator of voter turnout or indeed, which candidates they’ll vote for.

Democrats aside, if the Republicans secure victories, they won’t all be beneficial for Trump. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney will run for the Senate seat in Utah. At other Senators’ insistence, Trump has backed him as the Republican candidate but Romney plans to serve as a check on the president when needed; his latest campaign video targets some of Trump’s agenda, including immigration control.[7]  This could make it harder for Trump to pass bills through the Senate or it could play into the president’s hands. Just like the Democrat ‘Witch Hunt’, Romney’s approach has the potential to fail; after all, he represents a failed career politician, an embodiment of the swamp that Trump pledged to drain. Romney’s apparent ‘backstabbing’ could put a sour taste in many voters’ mouths and rally support for other conservative candidates and Trump.

At this stage, the national midterm elections are a hard one to predict. What is clear is that there will be many attacks on the president’s character and policies but the focus shouldn’t be on the attacks themselves but their effect: will they damage Republican chances or backfire and hurt the Democrats?

[1] Pramuk, J. ‘Republicans just got some good news for the 2018 midterm elections: A new poll shows them leading in the race for Congress’ www.cnbc.com https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/14/2018-midterm-elections-republicans-take-lead-on-a-generic-ballot.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mudde, C. ‘Democrats beware: the Trump-Russia inquiry isn’t the path to power’ www.theguardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/21/trump-russia-mueller-investigation-democrats [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[4] Smith, D. ‘Russia is aiming to interfere in US midterm elections, warns CIA chief’ www.theguardian.com https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/29/russia-is-aiming-to-interfere-in-us-midterm-elections-warns-cia-chief [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[5] Vazquez, M. ‘Kentucky Democrat wins state House seat in Trump stronghold’ edition.cnn.com https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/21/politics/kentucky-linda-belcher-trump/index.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[6] Sargent, G. ‘A blue wave? How Trump is helping Democrats win in unlikely places’ www.washingtonpost.com https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/02/21/a-blue-wave-how-trump-is-helping-democrats-win-in-unlikely-places/?utm_term=.9b9807face40 [Accessed 22/02/2018]

[7] Rogers, K. ‘Trump endorses Mitt Romney’s Run for Utah Senate Seat’ www.nytimes.com https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/19/us/politics/mitt-romney-trump-endorsement-senate.html [Accessed 22/02/2018]

Sporting Controversies will Disrupt Relations with Russia

The recent controversy surrounding Russian sport reached a zenith with the publication of a report by the world anti-doping agency (WADA) accusing the Russian state of being complicit in an unprecedented deception of anti-doping regulations for Russian athletes. The repercussions of the report will be felt beyond the world of sport, and could make easing political and social tension with Russia increasingly difficult for Europe and the United States.

WADA’s report is the latest in a series of incidents that have greatly damaged Russia’s sporting and national image. It follows highly publicised incidents in Russia domestic football that show that homophobic and racist attitudes are rife amongst Russian football supporters, and the disturbing organised violence of Russian hooligans in France during the recent  European football championships.

A natural backlash against Russia has resulted, with Russian athletes banned from competing in the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Whilst this sort reaction is understandable, it could well reinforce a Cold War style ‘encirclement’ mentality in the minds of many ordinary Russians and politicians. This attitude, born out of the belief that Russia is encircled by hostile nations, was fuelled in the days of Stalin as a way of galvanising the Russian population against other nations that were mistrustful of the socialist path that the country had taken after the 1917 revolution. In the modern day, the proliferation of a similar way of thinking has dangerous implications when the need for deescalating tensions with Russia is paramount.

Other factors away from the world of sport are fanning the flames. Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian leadership style and foreign policy are reminiscent of the strategies employed by the USSR during the Cold War. This has undoubtedly contributed to the resurgence of a Cold War style mentality in Russia. Another factor that cannot be ignored is the need for national pride that has motivated the above controversies. The WADA report for instance, suggested that one of the motivations behind the doping scandal was the desire by the Russian government to enhance the performance of its athletes who were seen to have performed unacceptably in previous international athletics tournaments.

Russia must modernise its way of thinking and other nations must continue to tread carefully when imposing sanctions in sporting terms. These sanctions will fracture the relationship between Russia and the rest of the world further, at a time when the need for stability is desperate.

Why Russia Want Trump to Win

The linking of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to Russia raises questions over what Russia may have to gain from a Trump victory in the election later this year.

The answer appears obvious at first. Trump has previously praised Vladimir Putin and has suggested that the United States’ NATO allies will only be able to guarantee American protection by fulfilling their ‘obligations’ to the US under his watch. Such statements further empower Russia and fit in with Trump’s isolationist outlook on foreign policy. Should Trump be given a chance to realise this vision and scale back or withdraw existing American international commitments, it would give Russia a golden opportunity to increase its global influence.

The Russians would also undoubtedly prefer a politically inexperienced Trump to be in the White House come next January. However, the key factor behind why they would find a Trump victory preferable is China. Russia’s recent normalisation of its relations with Turkey showed its desire to continue its aggressive foreign policies of the past few years, as the normalisation allowed it increased freedom to conduct airstrikes in Syria without serious reprisal. This evidences a clear desire from the Russians to expand their influence over Eurasia. China is its biggest rival in this regard with its gargantuan population, and burgeoning economy and military might. Trump’s rhetoric toward China has been markedly confrontational. His foreign policy promises thus far include labelling China as a currency manipulator and bolstering the US military presence in the South China Seas. If successfully enacted, these policies would result in the US and China spending time and resources on countering each other as opposed to Russia.

It cannot be conclusively proven that the Russians are influencing the US election. What has been obvious for a long time however is that international order is returning to a balance of power state with no one state dominant over the international system. The US, China and Russia instead all vie for increased global influence in order to gain an advantage over one another. A Trump victory would seriously affect the balance of power in Russia and China’s favour. All that remains to be seen is whether this possibility will affect the way millions of Americans vote when they go to the polls on November 8th. The pleasing aspect for the Russians and the Chinese is the not inconsiderable possibility that it will not.

The assassination of Boris Nemtsov- another step towards strengthening of Putin’s power

The past year was sad not only for the Russian democracy, but also for freedom of speech in the country. The opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was brutally murdered in the centre of the Russian capital, right in front of Kremlin. The Russian President has condemned the murder of Nemtsov and had accused opposition in the organisation of the execution.  At the same time the state propaganda continued through launching of press conference on the state owned agency Russia Today entitled: ‘Murders of Politicians: the Methods of Maidan’.

However there are some interesting facts, suggesting that motives for that murder are political and have nothing to deal with business interests, as claimed accordingly to another of Putin’s hypothesis. Nemtsov was killed just few meters away from Kremlin. It must be noted that the area is under constant surveillance, from police and security services. So it is against the logic, the killers to choose exactly that area to perform the assassination. In addition to that, the same day the CCTV systems in the area were out of order due to maintenance.

Also when Putin became President for the third time in 2012 he stated, that the opposition is preparing to launch attack against some of its own leaders and that will be used to discredit him. Furthermore according to Nemtsov’s friend Olga Shorina, he was preparing to publish evidence that Russian soldiers are actually involved in the Ukrainian conflict and the Russian citizens who were killed in the conflict are soldiers, not volunteers as claimed by Mr Putin. Last, but not least Nemtsov has planned to organise demonstration against war in Ukraine on first of March. It is most likely that the authorities in Moscow were concerned that such a demonstration might turn as a second ‘Maidan’.

There are a lot of facts suggesting that there is a governmental backup for that murder. Despite the fact that opinion polls among Russian electorate demonstrate a significant support for the President Putin, it seems that he wants to ensure that his power will be undisputed, by following the famous advice of his predecessor Josef Stalin: ‘When there is a person, there is a problem. When there is no person, there is no problem’.