M. K. Bhadrakumar |
A US senior official in Washington told TASS news agency Monday that the White House does not rule out a meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit (July 7-8) in Hamburg, but a final decision has not been made. He was non-committal but not pessimistic. He said:
- You can imagine anything but I would expect the meeting is going to happen. I know for a fact that nothing has been scheduled yet, and nothing has been decided on the format.
- In a sense, he (Trump) is always preparing for such meetings. He has intelligence briefings almost every day. He talks to his national security advisors almost every day. He talks to his Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense a few times a week. So he is well versed on the issues and has been receiving regular updates since the administration began since even before the administration began.
- I would expect that everything in the schedule would be finalized before we leave, and we leave on July 5. However, I simply do not want to give you a hard prediction. I am never completely sure about anything.
Barack Obama set the practice of not scheduling meetings with Putin on the sidelines of international events but making them appear impromptu events. He wanted to convey that Russia was not a ‘priority’ and probably hoped he was slighting Putin.
There was always gnawing anxiety in the run-up to the Soviet-American summits, but not this way – that a US president cannot admit that he hopes to meet his Russian counterpart. Barack Obama set the practice of not scheduling meetings with Putin on the sidelines of international events but making them appear impromptu events. He wanted to convey that Russia was not a ‘priority’ and probably hoped he was slighting Putin. Of course, Putin didn’t mind – so long as he transacted business. There were some awkward moments, for sure. The one that lingers in my memory is the photo of Obama and Putin at the 2013 G8 summit at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland – staring ahead in stony silence seated together awkwardly. (This was even before the coup in Ukraine and the sanctions.)
The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow Saturday that Putin is willing to meet Trump in any ‘format’. But then, Trump may want to flex muscles to look the ‘strong man’. Indeed, the White House statement issued late Monday sounds ominous:
- The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime that would likely result in the mass murder of civilians, including innocent children. If… Mr. Assad conducts another mass murder attack using chemical weapons; he and his military will pay a heavy price.
Read more: Rising tension between Russia and NATO
Continous setbacks for the US
The US is about to lose the war in Syria and Americans are bad losers. Meanwhile, the Saudi-Qatari rift puts a hole in Trump’s Middle East policy through which an elephant can pass. This is an awkward moment for an American president to negotiate with his Russian counterpart. Trump may well regard Assad as his punch bag.
Moscow must be on alert mode. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson yesterday regarding the Syrian situation. The Russian readout said, “Lavrov called on Washington to take measures to prevent provocations against Syrian government troops fighting against terrorists.”
Russia has warned that it is treating all American flying objects in the Syrian airspace as ‘targets’. But what happens if the US fires missiles at Syria (on whatever pretext), and Russia’s ABM shoots them down? A Russian-American military confrontation may ensue. Things are indeed at a highly sensitive point. After all, last Thursday, a Russian Tu-154 VIP aircraft carrying defense minister Sergei Shoigu was intercepted in the Baltic as it was approaching Kaliningrad by a NATO warplane, which was forced to retreat after a Su-27 Flanker jet zoomed in and displayed its weapons. (See the video footage by Russian Defence Ministry.)
Coincidence or not, on Monday Russian Northern Fleet’s Project 955 underwater missile cruiser Yuri Dolgoruky successfully test-fired a Bulava missile from the Barents Sea to targets in Kamchatka. The Defence Ministry said, “The launch was made from the submerged position in compliance with a combat training plan.” Bulava is a solid-propellant ICBM developed specially for Project 955 submarines, which can deliver 10 warheads of 150 kilotonnes each to a distance of 10,000 kilometers.