Five Takeaways From the Trump-Putin Summit
On July 16, President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held talks in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. The meeting was preceded by an indictment against 12 Russian spies for meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Russians were accused of hacking into emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton.
Prior to the summit Trump and Russia shared a friendly exchange on Twitter. “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he said on Twitter.
The Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted back: “We agree.”
Last week’s meeting was the first summit involving both presidents. Previously, both met and had a short conversation at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany in July 2017 and the APEC Summit in Vietnam five months later.
In light of the ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election and the unclear nature of the relationship between Putin and Trump, the meeting was seen as a defining point for U.S. – Russia relations. Here are five takeaways from one of the most anticipated summits:
Trump Labeled a Traitor at Home
In Helsinki, Trump said that Russia is not an enemy to the U.S and the billionaire refused to accuse Moscow of meddling in the 2016 election. Trump’s statement sparked fierce criticism from many high-profile politicians, from both the Republican and the Democrats.
Republican Senator John McCain called the Trump-Putin meeting a “tragic mistake,” and Republican House speaker Paul Ryan said Trump “must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.” Former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump’s actions at the summit “treasonous.”
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats hit back at Trump’s stance on Russia by releasing a statement explaining Russia’s role in the U.S election two years ago.
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats stated.
Former Vice President Joe Biden slammed Trump for disgracing the presidential office and defending the country’s number one enemy, not Americans’ interests.
“Today our President had the chance to confront an adversary who has attacked — and continues to attack — our democracy and our allies. He could have stood up for American interests and values. He chose not to,” Biden said. “Today’s press conference was beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
Russian Media Outlets Hailed the Summit a “Success”
Russian media organizations saw the Helsinki Summit as a major step forward. According to the Financial Post, “Russia’s largely Kremlin-friendly TV networks, websites and newspapers portrayed Trump as a political maverick who is being unfairly targeted by his own compatriots.”
In the press conference, Russian journalists also slammed American’s media outlets who only focused on alleged Russia’s intervention in the U.S election in 2016 that helped Trump to take office.
“Putin confirmed the world that he did not interfere in the election,” said Olga Skabeyeva from Rossiya-1 TV station.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the meeting’s outcome was “better than super.”
Mixed International Reactions
The summit drew mixed reactions from Washington’s allies. The German tabloid Bild called the meeting “too weak, too submissive-a disgrace.” According to a survey conducted by YouGov released on the eve of the summit, 64 percent of Germans surveyed said Trump was a bigger danger to world security than Putin, whereas, 16 percent of respondents said Putin was a bigger danger. And 56 percent said Putin was a more competent leader than Trump, whereas five percent said Trump was more competent.
Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said the summit was a sign that Germany needed to more closely align with Europe. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it,” Heiko Maas said. “The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”
The English paper The Sun sarcastically described Trump as “Putin’s poodle.” France, who celebrated the success of its national soccer team in winning the 2018 World Cup described the summit as a soccer match which was won by Putin.
While Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the summit was not as bad as many had feared. Trump did not give any concessions to Russia relating to sanctions imposed on Moscow due to the war in Eastern Ukraine.
“I look at the latest developments, including Helsinki, where it might have been that one president of our neighboring country (Putin) was pressuring the U.S. president for concessions. But I have not seen any concessions, neither as regards the annexation of Crimea nor the war in Ukraine. None of the voices that were appearing beforehand as hypothetically possible – concessions by the United States – have materialized. So I don’t see where he (Trump) has made any significant concessions,” Morawiecki said.
The ex-communist state is also a member of the European Union (EU) and NATO. Poland has urged NATO members to boost their defense spending, especially after Russia forcibly annexed the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014.
The meeting came off as a win-win for Israel, as Trump claimed both countries were committed to protecting Israel. Trump said Putin was a “believer in Israel” and a strong supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
“We came to a lot of good conclusions. A really good conclusion for Israel. Something very strong,” Trump told Fox News, adding that certain things to do in Syria must have things to do with the safety of Israel.
Putin echoed the statement by saying “the situation on the Golan Heights must be restored to what it was after the 1974 agreement, which set out the terms for the disengagement of forces between Israel and Syria.” Putin added this would “restore quiet to the Golan Height, bring a more peaceful relationship between Syria and Israel, and also provide security to the state of Israel.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised and thanked both leaders for their remarks in supporting the Jewish state’s security.
Nothing Changes in Syria
Trump suggested a joint approach to Syria, despite appearing to be on opposite sides of the Syrian war in recent years. “Our militaries have gotten along better than our political leaders for a number of years. And we get along in Syria too,” he stated.
The summit reaffirmed Russia’s more prominent role in Syria, but Putin and Trump did not specifically explain what to do next in Syria to reporters after the summit.
“No new guidance for me as a result of the Helsinki discussions as of yet,” said U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, who as the head of Central Command oversees U.S. military forces in the Middle East.
Returning home, Trump took a tougher stance on Russia and said he”misspoke” in Helsinki. He also claimed he told Putin face-to-face to stay out of U.S. elections saying, “I let him know we can’t have this. We’re not going to have it, and that’s the way it’s going to be,” said Trump.
Trump also reminded critics last Wednesday that the U.S. is still sanctioning Russia and had expelled Russian diplomats, while claiming no other President has been as tough as he has on Russia.
A new bill sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) gained eight more sponsors last Thursday. The bill seeks to automatically impose economic sanctions on Russia or any other country that runs political ads or creates fake news to interfere with U.S. elections.
Despite the criticism he is facing at home, Trump said he would invite Putin to the White House later this year.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump was pushing for a Putin visit this fall. “President Trump asked (national security adviser John Bolton) to invite President Putin to Washington in the fall and those discussions are already underway,” said Sanders.
Trump announced his eagerness for the second meeting on Twitter last Thursday.
The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media. I look forward to our second meeting so that we can start implementing some of the many things discussed, including stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear……..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 19, 2018