US-Russia: New-born Trust Quickly Smothered

Interview of Ray McGovern on Russian TV

Back Story/Comments (by Ray McGovern)

Most Americans have no idea that in September 2013, Presidents Putin and Obama (the latter without his Russophobic advisers) trusted each other enough to head off a major war in Syria. Moscow persuaded Syria to agree to have its chemical weapons destroyed under UN supervision, removing the ostensible casus belli.  In an op-ed in The NY Times on Sept. 11, 2013 Putin wrote, “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust.”  Neither Putin nor Obama wanted wider war in Syria. The deal was very much in Obama’a interest, taking the wind out of the sails of most of Obama’s advisers, including then-Secretary of State John Kerry, who did nothing to disguise their lust for an open U.S. attack on Syria. **More about Kerry below.


Just before he died at age 100, former Secretary of State George Shultz, the most sophisticated and savvy statesman I was privileged to brief for four years with The President’s Daily Brief, had this to say about trust (See: ):

Trust is a complex factor in life between communities and nations, but it is critical in determining whether cooperation or conflict—or even war or peace—will dominate the relationship.

Trust between Washington and Moscow, however, was the last thing that senior advisers to Presidents Obama — and, later, advisers to Trump or Biden wanted/want. Trust was smothered in the cradle – first and foremost — by what has been appropriately called “the most blatant coup in history” — the U.S. orchestrated coup in Kiev on February 22, 2014 on Moscow’s doorstep (which had been advertised on YouTube three weeks before it was carried out.

What most Americans think they know about all this is that Russia “invaded” Ukraine and Crimea. The Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex (MICIMATT) is what accounts for this widespread misunderstanding, with the corporate media playing a pivotal role. There is no way the corporate media will allow the likes of me on air or in print to spread a little truth around.

Why Are You Not Dead or in Prison?

Thus, there was considerable irony in an unusual, unsolicited question I received last summer from someone whose identity I did not — and still do not — know, asking me why I have not been put in jail for candidly addressing controversial issues — like which country sabotaged any chance for still more growth in the “growing trust” between Moscow and Washington.  Here’s a gist of his/her message:

I am a Russian who emigrated to the West a couple of decades ago. I just saw this video of a program that ran on one of Russia’s main channels, ‘Rossiya 24’, in late July 2020.

I was very surprised by how frank you are in addressing Russia-USA relations.  My question is this. How can it be that you are still alive and not in prison? Does the American government allow such candor?  I do not really expect a reply from you, but I really would like to have one.

I responded to the writer (let’s call her/him “X”), saying that I thought there was little chance that I be put in prison since very few Americans understand Russian and fewer still tune into Russian TV. I explained that I have given many a similar talk — and written many an article — on why U.S.-Russia relations went sharply down hill after the high-water mark of September 2013, when Putin applauded the “growing trust’ between Obama and himself. (As alluded to above, they had just solved a very thorny problem about Syria without the kind of armed attack that virtually all of Obama’s advisers AND key Congressional leaders were lusting for. The problem was/is that the media component of the MICIMATT has been able to suppress my views — or, if they happen to slip out into the open, accuse me of being in “Putin’s pocket”.

As for my interview on ‘Rossiya 24’ two and a half years ago, we deliberated on whether it might be worth trying to make it possible for English-speakers to watch my little rundown of how the sprout of trust eight years ago was nipped in the bud. I did seem worth a try. X told me he was capable, even though an amateur, of inserting English subtitles into the video.  X’s English is quite good, so we agreed. I was given the opportunity to review the English subtitles for accuracy. It was intense work. I believe it came out well, all things considered.

Why Post Video/Interview With Subtitles Now?

In this one discrete interview, which I gave shortly after we slithered out of the Washington Swamp and moved auf das Land, as the Germans would put it (or into a ‘dacha’ in the hinterland as Russians might say), I found myself with interviewers who gave me enough time to address serious issues on which I had been specializing for several decades. Most important, I can readily document my observations and conclusions with facts. And what could be more important than understanding how it came to be that the “growing trust” Putin mentioned hit a brick wall? And why.

One key lesson Putin learned was that the American president does not call the shots. Needless to say, this has immense significance.  I had documented that key point a few years earlier in a chronological listing of relevant events: See, for example; U.S.-RUSSIAN RELATIONS – 1989 TO 2016: KEY JUNCTURES (A DRAFT “TIMELINE” REQUESTED BY GERMAN BUNDESTAG MEMBERS)


-Oct 1, 2015 to Sept 9, 2016: Kerry and Lavrov labor hard to introduce ceasefire in Syria and some kind of political settlement.  Finally, a limited ceasefire is signed Sept 9, 2016.


-Sept 12, 2016:  The limited ceasefire goes into effect; provisions include SEPARATING THE SO-CALLED “MODERATE” REBELS FROM THE, WELL, “IMMODERATE ONES.”  Kerry had earlier claimed that he had “refined” ways to accomplish the separation, but it did not happen…


-Sept 17, 2016: U.S. Air Force aircraft bomb long established Syrian Army positions killing between 64 and 84 Syrian army troops; about 100 others wounded — evidence enough to convince the Russians that the Pentagon was intent on scuttling meaningful cooperation with Russia AND FELT FREE TO DO SO AND THEN MERELY SAY OOPS, WITH NO ONE BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE!


-Sept 26, 2016:  Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Russian TV:

“My good friend John Kerry … is under fierce criticism from the US military machine. Despite the fact that, as always, [they] made assurances that the US Commander in Chief, President Barack Obama, supported him in his contacts with Russia (he confirmed that during his meeting with President Vladimir Putin), apparently the military does not really listen to the Commander in Chief.”  Lavrov specifically criticized JCS Chairman Joseph Dunford for telling Congress that he opposed sharing intelligence with Russia, “after the agreements concluded on direct orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama stipulated that they would share intelligence. … It is difficult to work with such partners. …”


-Oct 27, 2016:  Putin speaks at the Valdai International Discussion Club

(See my Baltimore Sun Op-Ed of October 30, 2016 for more detail):

[So how did the “growing trust” that Russian President Vladimir Putin once claimed (in the Sept. 11, 2013 NY Times op-ed) marked his “working and personal relationship with President Obama” change into today’s deep distrust and saber-rattling? See the following remarks of Putin:]

Putin: “My personal agreements with the President of the United States have not produced results.” Putin complained about “people in Washington ready to do everything possible to prevent these agreements from being implemented in practice” and, referring to Syria, decried the lack of a “common front against terrorism after such lengthy negotiations, enormous effort, and difficult compromises.”


Those interested in additional information on this key period and the (often treacherous) key players, some of whom I had a chance to observe up close and personal, may find the following of interest:

How War on Syria Lost Its Way

(When Putin Made Obama an Offer He Could Not Turn Down)

US-Russia Ties: From Heyday to MayDay

**Kerry’s Poor Record for Veracity

**In my view, John Kerry merits special (dis)honorable mention. On August 30, 2013 he falsely accused the Syrian government of launching sarin chemical attacks outside Damascus. And during that crucial first week of early Sept. he was still agitating for open war on Syria days after Obama and Putin were successful in working out a plan to head it off. Below is an excerpt of something I wrote earlier about the truly extraordinary sequence of events involving Obama and Kerry during early September 2013:

Kerry: Giving It the College Try

When an attack on Syria was under active consideration, Kerry gave a bravura performance in his Sept. 3, 2013 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they, too, were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry’s testimony on Syria included a transparent attempt to play down the effectiveness of al-Qaeda affiliates in gaining control of the armed opposition to Assad. [The U.S. did not want to admit that many of the “moderate” Syrian rebels it supported were affiliated with al-Qaeda.]

Kerry’s testimony drew highly unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin said, “He [Kerry] is lying, and he knows he is lying.  It is sad.” [Putin made that remark on the day before Obama arrived for a summit in St. Petersburg, without Kerry. Obama later told Jeffrey Goldberg that this was one occasion on which he refused to adhere to the “Washington Playbook” (virtually all his advisers having urged open war on Syria).

But Kerry continued to press for war on Syria. He was asked at the end of a Sept. 9 press conference in London whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered (quite dismissively — and embarrassingly in view of subsequent events) that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.” [Apparently, Obama had kept Kerry in the dark about the seriousness of the deal the president had already worked out with Putin.]

Self-anointed Captain of American “Exceptionalists”

It is worth noting that right after Putin’s remark about “growing trust” in his Sept. 2013 NY Times oped, Putin added specific criticism of what he called “American exceptionalism, [which supposedly] makes America different — exceptional.” (I have been informed by a trusted source that President Putin himself penned the words on “growing trust” and the warning of the pitfalls that can stem from the concept of “exceptionalism” — aka hubris.)

Here’s how Putin ended that (final) paragraph:  “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” (See: )

Turning again to Syria and the aborted ceasefire mentioned above, that had been approved by both Obama and Putin, it seems highly instructive that Kerry expressed (rather naive) dismay and deep disappointment that, not only the U.S. Air Force, but many other factors in play made it difficult for even the exceptional United States to “align forces”. Here is Kerry lamenting that the Syrian situation was so complicated as to not be susceptible of U.S. “alignment”; the words are drawn from an interview on Sept. 29, 2016 with Steve Clemons of the Atlantic:

SECRETARY KERRY: — but Syria is as complicated as anything I’ve ever seen in public life, in the sense that there are probably about six wars or so going on at the same time – Kurd against Kurd, Kurd against Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sunni, Shia, everybody against ISIL, people against Assad, Nusrah. This is as mixed-up sectarian and civil war and strategic and proxies, so it’s very, very difficult to be able to align forces. So it’s —

MR CLEMONS: So in the middle of that, why did you think you could get a ceasefire?

KERRY: (no answer)