New Delhi: Looking beyond the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit in Helsinki, the prognosis is grim. India should stay clear of the confrontation between the United States establishment and the Kremlin and not raise false hopes of a settlement that would miraculously ease its own security concerns and defence acquisition pressures. With or without Donald Trump’s leadership, the United States is in preparation for a second programmed containment of Russia for which Vladimir Putin solely is to blame. Western Europe will happily join in containment II while Central and Eastern Europe and Japan and the rest of East Asia minus China will cheer in silence from the sidelines. Compounding the geopolitical mess Putin has landed Russia in by annexing Crimea and extending Russian control over eastern Ukraine, he will seek to draw closer to China to provide Major Power counterweight against the US-led Western alliance. China is likely to play a double game by taking the opportunity to eviscerate Russia (as it tried during the Cold War) while deceitfully assuaging Western concerns of joining the Russian bandwagon to further its own powerbase. Outside of the South and East China Seas which it considers sovereign territories, closely followed by the border troubles with India linked to the Tibet and Dalai Lama questions, China is averse to stoking geopolitical tensions which crimp its geo-economic growth. Already psyched by Donald Trump’s trade war, it will not side with Russia unless it is sure Vladimir Putin is winning. And Putin is facing the definite prospect of a rout.

Putin may have increased his nationalistic standing with unthinking Russians (who fortunately constitute a minority in the great country called Russia) and even won round one with Donald Trump which should come as no surprise. But the Russian strongman has lost the strategic contest with the United States by making inflammatory statements about American domestic politics which indeed sets the contours and limits of US foreign policy. By deriding the Robert Mueller inquiry into Russian meddling in the election that brought Donald Trump to power, Putin has enraged American public opinion on all sides of the political divide. Trump added fuel to the fire by questioning US intelligence confirmation of Russian meddling and the profound backlash compelled the American president to recant and admit to his blunder. Trump will soon come to learn that this indeed is the biggest blunder of his short and extravagantly successful political career and the prospect of his re-election appears more distant than ever. And should anyone discount the power of American public opinion, they need only to look at the twilight years of the Richard Nixon presidency. Bigger than Watergate in the earliest phase was the anti-Vietnam War peace movement which threatened a planned and purposive drawdown from Indochina; and this spooked the Congress so completely that it refused to go along with much of the administration’s plans for shoring up South Vietnamese resistance against the North. The coup de grace was delivered by the Watergate scandal.

History is repeating itself with a new script, a different set of actors, and some alterations in the mise en scene. US public opinion has swung wildly against Russia after Vladimir Putin appeared to have made mincemeat of Donald Trump at the summit and put on the face of a cat that got the cream at his post-summit press conference. And in denouncing his own intelligence services to Putin’s intense satisfaction, Donald Trump looked like a Manchurian Candidate who had been brainwashed to subvert the US government. Much as during the Vietnam peace movement, the United States Congress will bow to public opinion, rebuff the Trump White House, and double down on the sanctions placed against Russia. If India expected US waivers on Russian weapons imports, it is most certainly not happening after the disastrous Putin-Trump summit. Putin is squarely to blame. And American public opinion, the Congress and political unanimity cutting across party lines will further demand that Russia be subjected to containment II for undermining the United States. Being a shallow man with scarce strategic acuity, Vladimir Putin will turn to China to guarantee his regime, and Beijing will be in no hurry to come to his succour. If the United States has the sense to tighten the trade screws on China, Vladimir Putin will smell the coffee alright. But whether it would be enough to stop the containment juggernaut is difficult to say, because the United States will soon arrive at the conclusion that Russia needs a regime change for the world to have peace. US public opinion will sweep away anyone who stands in opposition, including the president, and Western Europe will wholeheartedly back the purge-Putin campaign. No one but Putin is to blame for this, and the best India can do is to stay quiet and to keep out of harm’s way. This is not the time to advertise anything, including historical India-Russia ties (as the po-faced defence minister, Nirmala Sitaraman, is wont to do) and Non-Alignment. A Putin-less, Trump-less day will come for that.

Editor’s Note: The Narendra Modi government should at once cease its communal campaign against the Congress party and the Muslim community and employ the rest of its term for some useful work. It is fast giving the impression that it has nothing really to show (apart from Nitin Gadkari’s good works) for the mandate it was given in May 2014.