Much at stake for Trump in summit with Putin

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/7/15 18:18:40

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT


US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold a summit in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday. After Trump assumed office in January 2017, he has on a number of occasions shown his eagerness to meet his Russian counterpart. Putin is also willing to meet Trump to ease bilateral tensions. But due to the Russiagate investigation, their summit kept getting delayed.

The international environment has undergone some major changes since early 2017 when Trump became US president. The changes will affect the agenda and the outcome of the Trump-Putin summit.

The rift between Russia and the West is continuously widening. Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul even published a book entitled From Cold War to Hot Peace to describe relations between Washington and Moscow. "The West's new confrontation with Russia resembles some aspects of the Cold War, but also features new dynamics, some of which may be even more dangerous than the Cold War. Rather than labeling our era a new Cold War, I call it a Hot Peace," he said.

Meanwhile, Russia is expanding its influence in its periphery despite limited national strength. Moscow and Europe continue to maintain ties despite mutual sanctions. Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline running from Russia to Europe across the Baltic Sea, is scheduled for completion in 2019 and has irritated Trump, who criticized European countries' reliance on Russian resources during the just-concluded NATO Summit.

Moreover, the North Korea nuclear crisis, the Iran nuclear issue as well as trade and environmental problems all highlight the need for dialogue and collaboration among major powers. This lends added importance to the Trump-Putin summit.

During Trump's presidential campaign, he repeatedly expressed his appreciation of Putin. If the US wants to improve ties with Russia, personal relations between Trump and Putin would be one of the crucial driving forces.

Trump wants to enhance ties with Moscow to win more support for mid-term elections. He doesn't have many diplomatic achievements to boast of in more than a year in office. Sino-US relations started well, but soon worsened. A trade war between the countries has already broken out. Differences between the US and Europe are growing. Over affairs of the Middle East, Washington is in an awkward position as the Syrian opposition it supported has lost its initiative.

In diplomacy, Trump's only achievement is his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Yet the result is not as ground-breaking as it is made out to be. Therefore, he needs to achieve something concrete before the mid-term elections to boost his chances.

For Putin, direct dialogue with the US president can help Russia ease its isolation on the global stage. An equal dialogue with Trump also reflects US recognition of Russia's status, which is important for Moscow to maintain its stature as a major power.

The most expected question is: What will Trump and Putin talk about during the summit? After the NATO Summit, Trump said he will raise Moscow's interference in the 2016 US election with the Russian leader. Logically, Putin will deny it. It means they will publicly express their political stance over the case in front of media and temporarily put an end to the episode. However, one can't be sure if Trump and Putin's political show will be recognized by US society.

In general, the meeting between the two leaders is mainly aimed at preventing bilateral tensions from spinning out of control. In the foreseeable future, fundamental differences between Russia and the US on a series of major issues, such as the Ukraine, Iran, arms control and so on, are hard to eliminate. It is also difficult for both sides to initiate genuine cooperation. As Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova put it, Moscow has "pragmatic and realistic" expectations for the July 16 summit in Helsinki. Given the tensions between the two sides, avoiding strategic misjudgment and further deterioration of ties through dialogue is important.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Center for Russian Studies, East China Normal University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus