As it’s been officially confirmed by both Washington and Moscow, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are going to hold an official meeting in mid-July. This will be their third in-person meeting even though both leaders have made statements about how they have a positive working relationship and there’s reports that they would often hold phone conversations.
As it’s been pointed out by The Nation, every single American president after Roosevelt held at the very least one summit with his Soviet or Russian counterpart, while other had multiple ones, including Eisenhower, Reagan and George Bush senior. Those summits pursued a number of goals, including attempts to solidify a mutual national-security partnership between the leaders of the two states, typically on behalf of improving relations; to enhance both leaders’ political standing at home and in the world; to send a message to their respective elites that attempts at sabotaging the leader’s détente policy will not be tolerated; to spread a positive media message to gain more popular support at home. It goes without saying that summits had various results, both those that can be described as positive and negative ones.
The absolute majority of political analysts agree that these days Washington’s approach to Russia reminds of a man walking along the cliff edge. The above mentioned The Nation notes that the White House administration is at odds with Mueller’s probe into Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia. Reportedly Mueller has even sought to interrogate President Trump. At the same time, momentum is building ahead of November’s midterm elections, with leaders from both parties warning about the risks of further “Russian meddling,” which makes this “leadership meeting at the top” unprecedented in this regard as well.
However, it’s been noted that in Russia there is widespread skepticism about the prospects of the forthcoming Trump-Putin meeting. It seems that local analysts are convinced that Trump is incapable of bringing anything to the table that can be of interest to Moscow. The predominant mood is that the US president remains a hostage to the unanimously anti-Russian Washington establishment and that any deal that Moscow can strike with him won’t be worth the paper that it’s written on.
In turn, the New York Times points out that the Trump-Putin summit that would presumably focus on the present state of American-Russian relations has already stirred anxieties in Europe against the backdrop of Trump’s ongoing clashes with the states that used to be regarded as trusted allies of Washington, namely Germany, France and Canada.
European officials have expressed fears that it could overshadow or undermine the NATO meeting, particularly if that gathering ends in acrimony, as did the recently concluded G7 meeting of major industrial powers in Canada.
The German Welt is convinced that should the summit take place, it may have potentially catastrophic results for both the EU and the rapidly weakening North Atlantic Alliance.
Among all European states the one that is disturbed the most by this development is the UK, which is hardly surprising, as London has been known as the Russophobe capital of the Old World for a really long time. The Times voices the worst fears of the British establishment in one of its articles, by pointing out that London fears that President Trump will undermine NATO by striking a “peace deal” with President Putin, adding that the sitting US president may easily announce instant withdrawal of anti-Russian sanctions by recognizing Crimea as a part of the Russian Federation.
By the absolute majority of European states are hardly concerned about Crimea or anti-Russian sanctions that hurts their companies that are trying to do business with Russia. What they fear is the changing dynamics of the international relations, where rapprochement between Moscow and Washington may put them in a rather peculiar spot. In a world where Trump’s America aims at steering the world with an iron grip, it’s not Russia or China that would be standing in its way, but the European Union with a habit of doing things its own way. Trump may just as easily take advantage of Russia, by urging it to undermine the European unity that cannot be exactly described as solid these days. Western allies are grumbling that Trump treats them like dirt, while some of them predict the beginning of the end of the US-European partnership.
But it seems that Trump genuinely believes that like so many others he’s angered and insulted who need him — the Western allies will ultimately come crawling back. It’s been pointed out that from Trump’s perspective, Europeans are mainly freeloaders taking advantage of the United States through unfair trade practices and paying too little for defense. So don’t be surprised when even such pillars of the UE as Germany is going to be treated roughly by Washington and manipulated into doing the things it wants Berlin to do.
So, before it even started, the Trump-Putin summit has become the main geopolitical event of this summer. It’s true that the meeting might open a path toward stabilizing the relationship, which under the circumstances, would be an important accomplishment in itself. It’s also true that this summit could score some diplomatic advances for the two men, however, the future of those states that are to be excluded from the discussion remains unclear.
Grete Mautner is an independent researcher and journalist from Germany, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”