Republican campaign advisor George Papadopoulos: Sanctions have done little more than to turn Russia towards China
George Papadopoulos has been one of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump‘s foreign political advisors since March 2016. Prior to this, he was an advisor to Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and Republican Party member who dropped out of the presidential race. Papadopoulos previously worked for various research institutes dealing with global politics. His sphere of interest is global energy. Papadopoulos has given an interview to Interfax‘s correspondent Ksenia Baygarova in which he discusses his views on U.S.-Russia relations, the Syrian crisis, NATO expansion and the dependence of the EU on Russian energy. Papadopoulos noted that his opinion does not necessarily coincide with that of Trump.Question: Many people in Russia think that if Donald Trump becomes U.S. president, the U.S.-Russia relations would significantly improve. Do you think these expectations are realistic?
Answer: Mr. Trump has been open about his willingness to usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Russia ties. However, this depends on Russia acting as a responsible stake holder in the international system. U.S.-Russian relations have reached a nadir under the Obama administration and the Clinton led state department when she was in office. Based on the low level of trust between both countries currently, and a military conflict seemingly on the horizon over the Baltics, Ukraine and even in Syria, it is in the interest of the U.S, NATO and Russia to deescalate hostilities immediately and work together towards combating common threats. This threat is principally Islamism and its violent expression, jihadism that has reverberated throughout North Africa and the Middle East post ‘Arab Spring‘.
Compartmentalizing the relationship would be a smart beginning. This means cooperating in Syria to defeat ISIS, stabilize the greater Levant. This should lead to political goodwill over East Ukraine and ensuring there is a mutual understanding that NATO’s borders will not be invaded.
Capabilities are at the heart of strategy, and the two countries working together to combat radical Islam, along with other countries in the region, principally Egypt, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Greece, will unify the EU, NATO, U.S. and Russia around a common threat which is in the interest of international peace and security. It demonstrates what goals I hope the U.S. will strive for and the principles we will live by when engaging the world and redefining our position in global affairs.
Q.: But, the Obama administration also claimed for years its intention to cooperate with Russia in combating common threats such as terrorism, using the same words as you are using now. It did not happen. So, what is the difference between Obama’s and Trump’s positions on this issue?
A.: The difference is that the Obama administration was declaring it without taking concrete actions. There was no practical cooperation, and their words differed fr om their actions. That is why Russia does not believe in American promises, and the atmosphere of mutual confidence has been lost. Trump, if elected president, will restore the trust.
Q.: What do you think the main mistake of the Obama administration in Syria?
A.: The main mistake of the Obama administration in Syria has been to not address the financing, recruitment and territorial gains of ISIS in parallel. The U.S. has overly depended upon Turkey to combat ISIS, yet, Turkey has predominantly acted against western interests in the conflict. Turkey has kept its border porous since the beginning of the civil war to permit jihadis entering the battlefield to combat Assad. This gambit has backfired on Turkey and the country is unfortunately facing a blowback within its territory by dual threats fr om ISIS and the PKK. Furthermore, by attacking the Kurdish forces combating ISIS, Turkey is hindering the progress of the region’s most effective fighting force against ISIS. It would behoove the Obama administration to do more to assist the YPG in its fight against ISIS, including arming, training and providing logistical support. Working with allies in the region to utilize alternative airbases to ones used in Turkey and Qatar, such as Akrotiri on Cyprus, or bases in Kurdish controlled areas of Iraq and Syria, would pay great dividends.
Q.: Do you share the opinion that the Assad regime should be immediately removed from power in Syria?
A.: We do not support aggressive changes of regimes anywhere including Syria. Look what had happened in Lybia and Iraq. We all remember this. However, it does not mean that we support Assad either.
Q.: Do you agree that the U.S. sanctions against Russia did not help to resolve the crisis in Ukraine?
A.: Sanctions have done little more than to turn Russia towards China as a primary market for Russian goods, services and energy. It is not in the interest of the West to align China and Russia in a geopolitical alliance that can have unpredictable consequences for U.S. interests in the South China Sea, Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. I believe both the U.S. and Russia should consider China as an emerging superpower threat that will have to be dealt with over the next fifty years.
Q.: How do you see the future of NATO? Do you support a further expansion of the alliance? If so, do you think that NATO should take into the account Russia’s concerns regarding this issue?
A.: If NATO is to expand, all new members must spend the required 2% of GDP on defense expenditure. Currently only five members do. Without a common mission that all countries subscribe to, or the pledge that all members spend 2% of GDP on defense, the alliance in its current form is likely not sustainable. The three largest threats NATO will have to combat over the next couple decades will be a rising and belligerent China, radical Islam and a nuclear Iran. Russia can be helpful in mitigating the dangerous consequences of these three forces colliding simultaneously.
Q.: You did not answer the question on whether you would support a possible NATO extension or not. Russia has repeatedly expressed its concerns about NATO’s military infrastructure moving toward Russia’s borders…
A.: We should look at the circumstances. If mutual confidence between our countries exists, then we will better understand the expectations of each other, and we can more accurately define the ‘red lines‘ which cannot be crossed. However, what is happening today between Russia and NATO, and between Russia and the West in general, creates an extremely dangerous and unstable situation in which every incident could become fatal.
Q.: Your professional background is related to global energy. Do you agree that European countries should reduce their dependence on Russian energy?
A.: The U.S. and Russia will compete over both the European and Pacific gas markets. This is inevitable. Unfortunately for the U.S., sanctions on Russia have resulted in massive energy deals between Russia and China. The shale renaissance currently underway in the U.S. has transformed the U.S. into an exporter of natural gas. Both the Pacific and Europe are the premium markets in the world, wh ere demand is growing (currently in the Pacific) and diversification of sources and routes of energy have yet to be established. By 2020 the U.S. is forecast to be the third largest exporter of LNG. By already exporting to Europe in small quantities, and locking in long-term contracts, Europe will have the luxury to renegotiate contracts away from oil-indexation, thus providing lower prices to the consumer and forcing both Gazprom and American companies to compete for market share wh ere supply and demand will drive the economics of projects.