A fair hearing
Today, Rex Tillerson – President Putin’s choice for US Secretary of State – will be appearing in the Senate for his confirmation hearing.
You could be forgiven for thinking today that Vladimir Putin has already taken over the world, what with revelations about the compromising material his agents allegedly have on The Donald aka the President-elect when he was in Moscow, the introduction of new Russian sanctions and this afternoon we have Rex Tillerson appearing live at 9.15am EST here.
In advance of that grilling, Mr Tillerson has released an opening statement where he rather elegantly describes the poisoned chalice that he has been given by the President-elect.
“We face considerable threats in this evolving new environment. China has emerged as an economic power in global trade, and our interactions have been both friendly and adversarial. While Russia seeks respect and relevance on the global stage, its recent activities have disregarded American interests. Radical Islam is not a new ideology, but it is hateful, deadly, and an illegitimate expression of the Islamic faith. Adversaries like Iran and North Korea pose grave threats to the world because of their refusal to conform to international norms.
“We must also be clear-eyed about our relationship with Russia. Russia today poses a danger, but it is not unpredictable in advancing its own interests. It has invaded Ukraine, including the taking of Crimea, and supported Syrian forces that brutally violate the laws of war. Our NATO allies are right to be alarmed at a resurgent Russia.
“But it was in the absence of American leadership that this door was left open and unintended signals were sent. We backtracked on commitments we made to allies. We sent weak or mixed signals with ‘red lines’ that turned into green lights. We did not recognize that Russia does not think like we do.
“Words alone do not sweep away an uneven and at times contentious history between our two nations. But we need an open and frank dialogue with Russia regarding its ambitions, so that we know how to chart our own course.
“Where cooperation with Russia based on common interests is possible, such as reducing the global threat of terrorism, we ought to explore these options. Where important differences remain, we should be steadfast in defending the interests of America and her allies. Russia must know that we will be accountable to our commitments and those of our allies, and that Russia must be held to account for its actions.”
Reading this, we’re not so sure that President Putin backed the right horse. It seems to us that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was spot on when he spoke some weeks ago with CNN about Mr Tillerson’s possible future as America’s chief diplomat.
“I’d say I don’t know for whom this is a problem. The fact that he [Rex Tillerson] knows them too well could be a problem for America [and] it could be a problem for Sechin [Putin ally and head of Rosneft] and Putin. And the issue here depends on values. If Mr Tillerson in his new job will hold up the beacon light of values, in that case I think that Mr Sechin, whom he knows well, wouldn’t have it easy. Because Mr Sechin’s values are not just different, they are hostile towards the common values in America. I don’t think that Mr Tillerson’s values are different. The question is whether he would be able to move away from a deal-based approach and move towards a values-based approach, because if not, Putin has a full house of cards for a deal-based approach.
“That’s because the leadership of a democratic country cannot afford such freedom of manoeuvre that a dictatorship can. He [Tillerson] will definitely lose with the deal-based approach. With the values-based approach, I think that Putin and Sechin are in a disadvantageous position. But the question is if a person [Tillerson] is capable of turning things around in his head? I hope very much that he is capable. But then of course, the newly elected president and American parliament [the Senate] can see it better [than I do].”
Mr Tillerson deserves a fair hearing. We will be hoping to hear something about a “values-based approach.” But there is one other, very important, thing that we can’t wait to find out: will he be wearing the medal that he was given by President Putin?