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Using Putin to shakedown allies already reality

Former U.S. President Donald Trump just suggested that he’d use Russian President Vladimir Putin as a shakedown artist against allies in a sort of protection racket. Those criticizing the remarks, and even Trump himself, may be surprised to learn that this is already effectively happening.

Speaking at a campaign rally in South Carolina on Feb. 10, Trump evoked a NATO meeting, claiming that “one of the presidents of a big country stood up and said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay, and we’re attacked by Russia, will you protect us?’ I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent? No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.”

The “they” Trump is referring to is obviously Russia, if only because that’s the only adversary etched into the DNA of the NATO transatlantic military alliance. Without the specter of a Russian threat, NATO would have to find another reason to justify its existence.

Ukraine is the boxing glove through which NATO can punch it out with Russia. They’re arming Ukrainian soldiers, and any other moronic foreign mercenaries, negating any need to commit their own countries’ troops to a deadly war from which public opinion would quickly demand an exit. So with the way the war is currently being fought, they’re able to cash in on all the benefits of war to the military industrial complex while all the risks get dumped on Ukrainians. NATO allies have funneled tens of billions in cash from their own taxpayer coffers to the Ukraine cause. But it’s the details of that financial assistance that are telling.

European Union aid to Kyiv has mostly been in the form of purely financial support, loans or credit — some of which will undoubtedly be paid back in the form of post-conflict deals or dibs on the kind of natural resources in which Europe is notoriously poor. The EU has nonetheless created a separate “Peace Facility” … for weapons proliferation. We’re not talking here about Nerf balls or squirt guns as the benign name might suggest. The way it works is that EU countries empty out their closets and send their hand-me-down weapons to little bro, Kyiv, then get cash from Brussels in return to make (or buy from allies, like the US) some nice, new weapons to keep for themselves. Washington’s aid to Ukraine has been overwhelmingly military. And where does that money go? Into weapons purchases, of course. And who makes the weapons? Three guesses…

So when Trump says that NATO countries aren’t paying their fair share to America, he’s not wrong — except in his conception of how it all actually works. NATO is certainly a vehicle for weapons purchases by allies — one that largely benefits America as the world’s top weapons exporter. So member countries’ obligation to meet the current spending target of 2 percent of GDP means guaranteed customers and revenue. Trump often gives the impression that the U.S. is owed money by these countries. They don’t owe Washington any cash directly, but not meeting their weapons spending targets would certainly mean less cash in American military industrial coffers.

The White House was quick to respond to Trump’s comments. “Encouraging invasions of our closest allies by murderous regimes is appalling and unhinged,” a White House spokesman said.

Oh, please. So much pearl clutching from an establishment that’s constantly talking up the specter of Putin using nukes or invading Europe. It’s the threat itself that’s profitable to the defense industry. So in that sense, Trump — the only recent American president to not have started any wars — may have just sold a few more Made in America fighter jets to anyone who actually took his riffing as gospel. And since when does Washington have any problem with that?

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