If after a day full of James Comey’s dramatic testimony in Congress, which according to MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was “the worst day of Donald Trump’s presidency” after Comey stated on the record that he is not aware of any wiretapping of Trump Tower and that the FBI has been probing Russia for ties with the Trump campaign since July, Trump wanted to send the world a signal that his priorities remain focused on Russia, and he is not backing down from demanding NATO pay its “fair share”, his Secretary of State has done just that after Reuters reported that Rex Tillerson plans to skip the April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers to be present during the first US visit by China’s president, and will one week later travel to Russia, “a step allies may see as putting Moscow’s concerns ahead of theirs.”
As Reuters adds, Tillerson intends to miss what would be his first meeting in Brussels with the 28 NATO members to attend President Donald Trump’s expected April 6-7 talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. While it goes without saying, two former US officials told Reuters that “the decisions to skip the NATO meeting and to visit Moscow risked feeding a perception that Trump may be putting U.S. dealings with big powers before those of smaller nations that depend on Washington for their security.”
It is also likely to prompt further speculation of NATO-alternative alliances. State Department spokesman Mark Toner had no immediate comment on whether Tillerson would skip the NATO meeting or visit Russia. Two U.S. officials said Tillerson planned to visit Moscow on April 12.
“It feeds this narrative that somehow the Trump administration is playing footsy with Russia,” said one former U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You don’t want to do your early business with the world’s great autocrats. You want to start with the great democracies, and NATO is the security instrument of the transatlantic group of great democracies,” he added. NATO is also the alliance which installs anti-missile system, drastically shifting the nuclear balance of power in the region, and keeps piling up troops on the border with Russia, and is then shocked when a furious Russia lashes out.
As for Tillerson’s visit to Russia, any visit to Moscow by a senior Trump administration official will be carefully scrutinized after the director of the FBI on Monday publicly confirmed his agency was investigating any collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign.
Perhaps this is Trump’s way of demonstrating how little he cares about the public’s reaction to Comey’s revelations. Furthermore, Trump has already antagonized and worried NATO allies by referring to the Western security alliance as “obsolete” and by pressing other members to meet their commitments to spend at least 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Quoted by Reuters, a former NATO diplomat said he hoped there might be a way for Tillerson to attend both meetings, for example by changing the date of the NATO talks.
The former diplomat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was vital to present a united front toward Moscow. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was created in 1949 to serve as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.
“Given the challenge that Russia poses, not just to the United States but to Europe, it’s critical to engage on the basis of a united front if at all possible,” the diplomat said.
The front may be united, but if Tillerson shows up in the Kremlin on April 12 without first making an appearance in Brussels one week ago, it will be a front of the US and Russia (and thus China) against Europe, hardly the outcome Angela Merkel was hoping for when she spoke to Trump just this past Friday.