The master and servant relationship is complicated when the submissive party is normally considered one of the most powerful people in the world.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov demonstrated just how difficult it is to discern who is pulling the strings in a situation with obscured power dynamics when he openly contradicted Donald Trump’s own account of their conversation in the Oval Office today.
The meeting between the top Russian diplomat — the man to whom the president has previously disclosed highly classified information during their White House meetings — and Trump was closed to the press, but the president had already posted a tweet describing the many topics that he brought up with Lavrov in their discussions including the “Election Meddling” by the Russian government.
Just had a very good meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and representatives of Russia. Discussed many items including Trade, Iran, North Korea, INF Treaty, Nuclear Arms Control, and Election Meddling. Look forward to continuing our dialogue in the near future! pic.twitter.com/tHecH9a9ck
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
Despite the unanimous findings of American intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and continues to try to do so, Trump has consistently downplayed that verified fact — likely because he sees it as calling the legitimacy of his own election into serious question. Today, however, Trump for whatever reason — impeachment, perhaps? — felt it important to let the American public know that he had raised the issue with that nation’s top diplomat.
Unfortunately, the White House didn’t coordinate its messaging strategy with Lavrov before he left the meeting.
Upon returning to the Russian embassy, the Foreign Minister told reporters that he had not discussed the topic of election meddling at all during their diplomatic confab.
“We haven’t even actually discussed elections,” Lavrov told the reporters at his embassy.
Typically when faced with a dispute over the nature of the reality of a given occurrence, one would side with the account of the more credible of the two parties involved.
With Donald Trump’s long history of pathological lying, he usually winds up as the least believable party in a disputed recounting of the facts of what was said in a meeting.
However, in this particular situation, the web of possible motives for deceit by both sides of the discussion makes it difficult to know who one should believe. As an adversary whose primary aim is to weaken the United States’ position in the world order, Russia has every incentive to sow chaos in the American political system as they did in their 2016 efforts at electoral interference.
Yet the Kremlin also wants to keep and strategically utilize any leverage it may have over the American president to ensure that he will continue to support their agenda— an agenda that he has to date more scrupulously promoted than any historically American values and interests.
Whether or not Trump and Lavrov actually discussed Russian election meddling is in the end irrelevant.
Any words of warning that Trump would dare to utter towards the country so heavily responsible for his electoral victory in 2016 would likely fall on deaf ears as the Kremlin pursues its own goals.
Perhaps the power dynamic is not so obscure or complicated after all.
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Original reporting by Brett Samuels at The Hill.