Since the very day of Trump’s inauguration in mid-January he has been arranging talks with various world’s officials, inviting them every time to visit the US. Among them one can find Teresa May, Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping, Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the leaders of Canada, Mexico, and Egypt.
On Saturday, during a phone talk with the scandalous President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, he invited him to visit Washington in order to discuss the so-called US-Philippine alliance. The White House has already announced that Trump enjoyed the conversation and he is expecting Duterte to attend the US-ASEAN summit in November. Nevertheless, for the US State Department this invitation was a quite surprise since its expects a barrage of criticism from Philippines’ understrained president if he is to actually visit the United States.
It is remarkable that the invitation to the President of the Philippines looks like the White House’s attempt to seize the initiative from Moscow, that has been recently establishing close ties with this Southeast Asian state. After all, Trump voiced this idea immediately after the announcement that Rodrigo Dutere is to visit Moscow in the near future in a bid to pursue Manila’s progressive development of bilateral ties Moscow in various areas, including arms supplies. The two states have been off on a good footing after Putin’s meeting with meeting Duterte at the APEC summit in Lima last November.
Against this background, the track record of Trump’s contacts with Russia’s leader looks pretty curious. One could note that as early as August 14, 2015, Donald Trump made a sensational statement by announcing that he doesn’t see no reason why he wouldn’t be able to get along with Vladimir Putin. Although Trump’s presidential ambitions were nowhere to be found back than, against the backdrop of the overall negative attitude of the American prominent figures towards Putin, this announcement produced a massive confusion in the West. After all, the world grew tired of the verbal confrontation between Washington and Moscow in Obama’s two terms in office, realizing that the actual cooperation of these two great states can result in a state of stability being enjoyed all across the globe.
Trump has repeatedly praised Putin, while talking with Larry King, announcing back in 2007 that:
Look at Putin — what he’s doing with Russia — I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done — whether you like him or don’t like him — he’s doing a great job.
Then, six years latter he would add:
I think he’s done really a great job of outsmarting our country,
Then, back in December 2015, Putin would enter this indirect dialogue with Trump by announcing:
He is a very flamboyant man, very talented, no doubt about that. But it’s not our business to judge his merits, it’s up to the voters of the United States. He is an absolute leader of the presidential race, as we see it today. He says that he wants to move to another level relations, a deeper level of relations with Russia. How can we not welcome that? Of course, we welcome it.
To this date, Putin Trump has had three phone conversations with Trump but only they were engaged in actual negotiations, while other two were nothing more that a formal expression of congratulations.
On January 28, the first phone talk that Trump had with Putin after his inauguration was attended by US Vice President Mike Pence, Chief of Staff of the White House Rheins Paribas, along with a number of presidential advisors. Back the White House spokesman Sean Spicer would announced that the discussion was held in a positive and businesslike manner and a number of international issues was touched upon, including the common efforts to fight ISIS. The parties agreed to maintain “regular personal contacts,” that could allow the leaders to prepare the ground for future meetings. In an interview with Fox News, Trump would announce that if the US manages to get along with Russia, since Washington and Moscow together are perfectly able to put an end to the Islamic State.
However, after Trump’s hundredth day in office, one could describe the signals coming from Washington and Moscow about the prospects of the first personal meeting between Trump and Putin as truly confusing. Some sources even claim that Putin and Trump can meet at the end of May, although at the same time it is reported that no actual steps have been made so far for the organization of such a meeting.
The main reason for this, of course, is the fact that Donald Trump is not completely free in his decisions. To date, he’s been facing a bunch of opponents that are fighting him tooth and nail, instead of supporting his decisions and actions. Trump is very much like a Colossus with legs of clay, therefore, at a very important future meeting with Putin he would find it difficult to occupy a clear position on such issues as Syria, Ukraine, Iran, China, or North Korea.
According to the US constitution, the president has limited capabilities, while Trump has no actual experience to speak of. To make the matter worse, the Russophobia hysteric campaign in the Western meida has been around for a long time. Trump managed to win the election due to his charisma, but it would be equally difficult to stay on top of his game. Now he enjoys at least some support in both Houses of the Congress, but it won’t last long as long as the matter concerns Russia.
We must not forget that Putin and Trump are similar in their attempt to look like strongmen. However, the authority they actually enjoy is drastically different both at home and abroad. Putin through his actions and statements has gained an impressive amount of support from the population of Russia, but he has also been constantly increasing his personal authority on the international stage.
Against this background, of course, Trump’s positions look shaky at best, so the American president is clearly afraid of holding a personal meeting with Putin. After all, even according to the latest Gallup poll, every fourth American believes that Trump turned out to be a worse president than they expected, while Trump’s first 100 days in office have been regarded as an utter and complete disaster.
Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”