July 13, 2018
On July 16th, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Helsinki, Finland. While this is far from the first time president’s of each country have met, the interest of the rest of the world in their meeting has rarely been higher.
This elevated interest comes from many angles. From the perspective of U.S. allies, particularly in Europe, their anxiety stems from the clear animus Trump has shown regarding the long-standing diplomatic and strategic institutions which have bound them since just after the end of World War II, namely the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. U.S. allies in the Far East are watching closely as well, as this meeting comes shortly after the disastrously farcical summit between Trump and Kim Jong-Un replete with miscalculations and a feigned accord.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this meeting, is that Trump is insisting that at least part of the excursion includes a one-on-one meeting with Putin, without any aides, diplomats or even note-takers; only the two of them and translators. This is not without precedent, almost exactly one year ago Trump and Putin had an ostensibly extemporaneous meeting at a G20 post-summit dinner. The meeting was not immediate disclosed and took place without any U.S. official, Trump even relied on Putin’s personal translator because the U.S. entourage did not bring one who spoke Russian. The White House only acknowledged the otherwise undisclosed meeting because it was reported on by Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group.
“Pretty much everyone at the dinner thought this was really weird, that here is the president of the United States, who clearly wants to display that he has a better relationship personally with President Putin than any of us, or simply doesn’t care,”
Since there was no U.S. official of any sort present, the only record of the meeting relied on Russian reports and President Trump’s own questionable narrative. As for Trump himself, he seemed more bothered by the fact that the meeting was made public, and the manner of which it was reported.
And this is where the problem is; when there is no official U.S. record, Russia can essentially say whatever they want about the meeting, and after what is coming in Helsinki, that is exactly what they will do.
You see, Putin did not help Trump because he thought Trump would be the best leader for the U.S., he helped to get Trump elected because he knew how easily he can be manipulated into disassembling all of our long-standing strategic, diplomatic, economic and democratic institutions. Putin is playing a zero-sum game, and he wants Russia to gain everything that Trump will cause the U.S. to lose.
After the summit, perhaps as soon as Air Force One is airborne, Trump will be tweeting about his successful meeting and how he aims to press the reset button on U.S. and Russian relations. Blah, blah, blah, no interference…blah, blah, blah, Putin’s a great guy…yadda yadda. There are fears that he will give away the farm, as it were, by halting NATO joint military exercises, or even attempt to end our entente with our NATO allies altogether.
I don’t think it will happen that way.
A day or two after the meeting, there will be reports on Russian state media, how Trump made concessions or promises to Putin during their “private meeting”, which will make Trump look extremely weak. Trump will go into damage control mode, with his own account of the meetings, but with no official record it will simply be his word against Putin. Trump will privately be devastated that his Russian BFF had betrayed him, but will be unable to engage in any repartee because of whatever kompromat Putin has dangling overhead like the Sword of Damocles. Putin will have officially, until Trump is removed from power, seized full control over the office of the President of the United States.
If things unfold this way, and nothing is done, we can count on Russian aggression against Ukraine, the Baltics, Poland, Germany; while the U.S. stands on the sideline watching, gelded and impotent. NATO will collapse, the E.U. will fragment, and at that point, Putin will have gotten everything he has ever wanted.