News Analysis |
Helsinki summit could arguably be termed as a dream win of Russian President Vladimir Putin over the west especially the political establishment of the United States of America. Leaders of the U.S and Russia convening together has never been a micro level event, given the difficult history both countries share, but the just concluded Trump-Putin summit was highly anticipated. Just two days before U.S President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin were to meet in Helsinki, U.S Justice Department, as part of ongoing Robert Mueller investigation, indicted 12 Russian officers belonging to Russian Intelligence, GRU, & Russian Military Intelligence. for meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. The timing of the indictment was awkward and clearly represented a move by the US political establishment to set a stage for difficult moments for Trump as he met Putin and to limit the scope of Trump Putin summit.
Responding to questions he said: “Where did you get this idea from that I trust President Trump and he trusts me? He represents the interests of the United States of America and I represent the interests of the Russian Federation”.
However, it appears that Trump fully understood the move from Washington and was ready to take it head-on. After his one-on-one meeting, with Putin, both the leaders faced a battery of international reporters for more than 45 minutes in a joint press conference. A reporter stood up and asked President Trump that would he tell President Putin to denounce what he did in 2016 and promise that he will never do it again? To which Donald Trump calmly replied that he had asked President Putin about it and President Putin has denied it and said it was not Russia who did the hacking into the DNC server. “I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
After Trump’s rebuke to the reporter on this issue, as expected there has been a huge backlash from the U.S media, the democratic leaning commentators and even the Republican lawmakers. Donald Trump, on the face of it, has undermined the credibility of the US intelligence community by denying the Russian involvement at point black. His director of national intelligence, DNI, Dan Coats, distinctively stood in contrast with the President’s statement and said, “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Trump faced a carefully laid out trap. To most of his detractors how he dealt with the indictment scenario, which happened right before the summit, was a litmus test for where he stood. According to them, owning what his intelligence agencies and investigators are doing back home and asking Putin to handover the indicted spies would have made him a bold statesman. But to him, his supporters and to other analysts, it was also obvious, that it would have been an indirect endorsement of the investigation being conducted by the special prosecutor Robert Muller into a possible collusion between Russians and his election campaign. On the other hand, denying and denouncing, which he did, what his intelligence agencies were doing would have made him seen as someone who goes against the tide of U.S national interest. And it is precisely what has happened.
Former CIA Director John Brennan, who served under President Obama, from Jan 2013 to Jan 2017, denounced Trump’s performance as “treasonous,” and Republican U.S. Senator John McCain, considered a vocal critic of Trump, called the meeting with Putin a “tragic mistake,” Trump understands how issues are being framed by his enemies and is making his own efforts to control possible political damage; in a tweet he later said: “I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people. However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”
Trump’s position on Russia has been clear all along; he sees himself as a non-interventionist president who seeks good relations with an assertive Russia and who wants to fix domestic US economy and collapsing infrastructure; he has made it clear that many of the US allies (in western Europe) and trade partners (China, Japan, Mexico and Canada) have been thriving at US expense and he wants them to take greater responsibilities for common defense of the west by contributing more to NATO or to extend trade concessions to the US. But despite this, he bitterly criticized Angela Marker, German Chancellor for Germany’s growing dependence on Russian gas and energy sources a few days ago. He and his advisers understood that he cannot be sitting with Putin in Helsinki and taking a position his establishment is forcing upon him. What happened in Helsinki has clearly brought forward that US President and Washington Establishment don’t share the same worldview.
The timing of the indictment was awkward and clearly represented a move by the US political establishment to set a stage for difficult moments for Trump as he met Putin and to limit the scope of Trump Putin summit.
Contrary to hot waters in which President Trump has landed himself in, it was another victory for Vladimir Putin over the United States of America. He was calmer, composed and seemed in command during the whole press conference. Responding to questions he said: “Where did you get this idea from that I trust President Trump and he trusts me? He represents the interests of the United States of America and I represent the interests of the Russian Federation”. His words were well articulated to state that his objective is the Russian interest but at the same time, despite what he said, too many Trump detractors, Donald Trump’s action were contrary to U.S interests.
Despite repeated attempts by the reporters to make Donald Trump say something against the things Putin has been doing, they got nothing. He did not speak of Russia’s annexation of Crimea which has been the pivoting point of U.S foreign policy against Russia since the Ukraine conflict of 2014. It made one of the reporters stand and ask Putin about the allegedly reported “compromising material” which he has against Trump? To which Putin cleverly burst into a laughter and dodged the question.
According to Trump’s critics, Donald Trump’s recent visits have made the U.S lose some key support in Europe, the old ally, but according to them none of that was as threatening to his image as siding with Putin has as he is never seen as an ally back in the U.S by democrats and republicans alike. Looking at this building scenario, some tough and troubling times may be waiting for Donald Trump once he gets back home. But on the other hand, his support base is intact, his followers don’t trust mainstream media who have been tagged as “fake media” by Trump; business community is happy, US growth is up and unemployment rates are hitting the lowest in the last 10 years or so. So far, the President despised by the US agencies, the political establishment and the mainstream media looks set to win the next elections.