Trump, Putin and the Meeting That Could Shape the World

This week Trump and Putin will come face-to-face in one of the most keenly awaited meetings between two heads of state in years, one that is rich with political, geostrategic and personal storylines
Donald Trump (L), and Vladimir PutinDonald Trump (L), and Vladimir Putin

They meet, at last.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been circling one another, intrigued yet at a distance, ever since the former real estate tycoon launched his convention-busting White House bid.

This week they will come face-to-face in one of the most keenly awaited meetings between two heads of state in years, one that is rich with political, geostrategic and personal storylines, CNN reported.

At the G20 summit in Germany, Trump will greet the man believed by US intelligence agencies to have conceived an intelligence plot to disrupt last year’s election and to help him take power.

Over the last four years, Trump has lavishly praised Putin, reviled by most of Washington as a US enemy; noted that the Russian leader has been “very nice” to him and denied his own previous claims that they have met before.

Putin, a former KGB officer who has put a bid to reassert Russian influence at the West’s expense at the center of his foreign policy, has described Trump as “bright and talented” but warned that America is in the grip of political “schizophrenia” over allegations that Trump had shared top secret information with visiting Russian officials.

The extraordinary circumstances and political implications of their talks in Hamburg will ensure that their meeting later this week, and any encounter before the cameras in less-formal moments of the G20, is highly scrutinized.

But there’s an added dimension to the encounter simply because it involves Putin and Trump.

  Who Has the Upper Hand?

In some ways, Trump comes into the meeting at a disadvantage. He is weakened at home, barreling from one self-inflicted political firestorm to another, leaving limited room for maneuver on foreign policy.

Putin, who doesn’t have to worry about the checks and balances on power constraining Trump, has established himself as a major world force, expertly playing a weak hand to reassert Russia’s influence in Europe and the Middle East, while he exploits fissures in the transatlantic relationship.

Both men have an obligation to try to halt an alarming trajectory that has their nations brushing up against each other on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war, at odds over NATO expansion, and maneuvering troops, ships and planes in dangerous proximity in Europe and the Baltic, with the potential for miscalculation and escalation a daily threat.

  Better Relations  -- Is it Possible?

The political hoopla surrounding the meeting means that significant progress is unlikely — even if the White House is trying to play down the spectacle.

“It won’t be different from our discussions with any other country, really,” said National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster at a briefing for reporters last week.

That deadpan statement is inconsistent with the most intriguing aspect of the encounter — it remains unclear whether Trump shares the consensus within his own national security team and in Washington that Russia is an adversary.

Although he said in January that “I think it was Russia” in reference to election meddling, Trump has more frequently dismissed the idea his aides colluded with Russia as a “hoax” perpetrated by Democrats and the “fake news” media dismayed at Hillary Clinton’s defeat last November.

Trump has also repeatedly called for improved ties with Russia. He also lavished personal praise on Putin, several times arguing he was a better leader than Obama.

“I would love to be able to get along with Russia,” Trump said during a news conference in February.

  Election meddling?

For US observers, the big question is whether Trump will use the meeting to complain about election interference.

A failure to do so would be a political loser at home since critics will charge him with abdicating his responsibility to preserve the integrity of American democracy.

The White House’s refusal to offer details of the format of the meeting reflects its political sensitivity.

“We don’t know if it will be a long bilateral meeting, or a shorter pull aside at this stage. Those details haven’t been set so in part that format of that meeting will dictate what they discuss and how they discuss it,” said Thomas Bossert, a White House homeland security adviser on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday.


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