The Elysee Palace protocol was implacable. Nobody in Paris would be allowed to steal the spotlight away from the host, President Emmanuel Macron, during the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day marking the end of World War I.
After all, Macron was investing all his political capital as he visited multiple World War I battlefields while warning against the rise of nationalism and a surge in right-wing populism across the West. He was careful to always place the emphasis on praising “patriotism.”
A battle of ideas now rages across Europe, epitomized by the clash between the globalist Macron and populism icon Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister. Salvini abhors the Brussels system. Macron is stepping up his defense of a “sovereign Europe.”
And much to the horror of the US establishment, Macron proposes a real “European army” capable of autonomous self-defense side by side with a “real security dialogue with Russia.”
Yet all these “strategic autonomy” ideals collapse when you must share the stage, live, with the undisputed stars of the global show: President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin.
So the optics in Paris were not exactly of a Yalta 2.0 conference. There were no holds barred to keep Trump and Putin apart. Seating arrangements featured, from left to right, Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Macron, his wife Brigitte and Putin. Neither Trump nor Putin, for different reasons, took part in a “walking in the rain” stunt evoking peace.
And yet they connected. Sir Peter Cosgrove, the governor general of Australia, confirmed that Trump and Putin, at a working lunch, had a “lively and friendly” conversation for at least half an hour.
No one better than Putin himself to reveal, even indirectly, what they really talked about. Three themes are absolutely key.
On the Macron-proposed, non-NATO European army: “Europe is … a powerful economic union and it is only natural that they want to be independent and … sovereign in the field of defense and security.”
On the consequences of such an army: It would be “a positive process” that would “strengthen the multipolar world.” On top of it, Russia’s position “is aligned with that of France.”
On relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Washington: “It is not us who are going to withdraw from the INF Treaty. It is the Americans who plan to do that.” Putin added that Moscow has not scheduled military drills near NATO borders as an attempt to appease an already tense situation. Yet Russia has “no issue with” NATO drills and expects at least a measure of dialogue in the near future.
Enter the Avangard
Vast sectors of the US Deep State are in denial, but Putin may have been able to impress on Trump the necessity of serious dialogue due to an absolutely key vector: the Avangard.
The Avangard is a Russian hypersonic glide vehicle capable of flying over Mach 20 – 24,700km/h, or 4 miles per second – and one of the game-changing Russian weapons Putin announced at his ground-breaking March 1 speech.
The Avangard has been in the production assembly line since the summer of 2018, and is due to become operational in the southern Urals by the end of next year or early 2019.
In the near future, the Avangard may be launched by the formidable Sarmat RS-28 intercontinental ballistic missile and reach Washington in a mere 15 minutes, flying in a cloud of plasma “like a meteorite” – even if the launch is from Russian territory. Serial production of Sarmat ICBMs starts in 2021.
The Avangard simply cannot be intercepted by any existing system on the planet – and the US knows it. Here is General John Hyten, head of US Strategic Command: “We don’t have any defense that could deny the employment of such a weapon against us.”
Iran as the new Serbia?
I wish I had been in Paris – my home in Europe – to follow these concentric World War I–related plots live. But it was no less fascinating to follow them from Islamabad, where I am now, back from the northern part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The British Empire used 1.5 million to 2 million Indian colonial subjects to fight, and die, for empire in that war. Quite a few were Punjabis, from what is now Pakistan.
As for the future, Trump is certainly aware of Russia’s hypersonic breakthroughs. Trump and Putin also talked about Syria, and might have touched on Iran, although no one at the working lunch leaked anything about it.
Assuming the dialogue continues at the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires at the end of November, Putin might be able to impress on Trump that just as Serbia catalyzed a chain of events that led great powers to sleepwalk into World War I, the same could happen with Iran leading to the terrifying prospect of World War III.
Team Trump’s obsession on strangling Iran into economic submission is a no-go, even for the Macron-Merkel-led European Union. On top of it, the Russia-China strategic partnership simply won’t allow any funny – reckless – games to be played against a crucial node of Eurasia integration.
Putin won’t even need to go hypersonic to make his case to Trump.