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Helsinki summit: Much ado about nothing

The fallout of the Trump-Putin meeting may have limited impact on bilateral ties and may even lead to a setback

Gulf News

Despite attempts by some American circles to cancel or postpone the Helsinki summit between United States President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, citing “Russian intervention in the US presidential election”, we have seen how Trump was eager to sit with Putin. The summit is a historic one for both the leaders. One has been taking solid steps and making gains in many parts of the world, while the other is controversial with a businessman mentality; and each needs the other. All along, the summit raised many questions and expectations. Are we about to witness “deals” that will characterise the meeting, which, if it succeeds will significantly mark an attempt to restore balance to the world order that has been witnessing fluctuations since Russia made a successful return to the global scene? Or, will it be mere general understanding that would help in reducing tensions between the two giants?

Three scenarios arise from the proliferating political literature:

The first is that Trump has raised “America first” slogan and likes to deal with strong leaders, but away from blocs. Such a scenario is in the heart of his business mentality, since he continuously seeks individual ‘deals’ that can bring gains to him and the US. Hence, his admiration of Putin, praising his patriotism and Russia’s power, ignoring accusations regarding violations of democratic principles and human rights.

In the meanwhile, Trump sparred with Europe on how to deal with Russia, Syria, Iran or North Korea. His controversial remarks highlighted his differing views with US allies on many major issues. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its clash with Ukraine, which led to international sanctions, did not prevent Trump at the G7 meeting in Canada last month from declaring that “Crimea is a Russian region, because everyone there speaks this language”. “Nato is as bad as Nafta [North American Free Trade Agreement]”, he was quoted as saying during the meeting. He even shocked Washington’s friends and close allies by talking about “the need for Russia at the summit table”. Finally, at the Nato summit, he declared that Putin was “easier” than Nato and European heads of state. Thus, this scenario is for Trump a matter of approach and mentality.

The second scenario views Trump or some of his team falling into the ‘trap’ of a deal that his electoral commission had struck during the presidential battle. Currently, the US Congress is conducting independent investigations into what is described as “Russian intervention” in the US presidential election of 2016, and a similar investigation is being conducted by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This ‘trap’ scenario cannot be ignored because of the large amount of political and media literature that deals with it as a fact.

There has been talk that Putin and the Russian state have something on Trump and members of his election team, which makes him prone to ‘caving’ in! This “fact” is evident in Trump’s effusive praise of Putin and his stand on Crimea, which means he is ‘indebted’ to them in a way or another. This comes amid talk of tension on the issues he raised in European Union-America relations: Taxes on European imports, withdrawal of the US from the nuclear deal with Iran, turning his eyes away from escalating Russian military power in Europe and Moscow’s position on Syria. According to the New York Times: “European officials fear what Trump might pay in gains under the table to President Putin”, especially during their private meeting away from the watchful eyes.

The third scenario touches on the very special relationship between Israel and the Trump administration.

No matter what visible and hidden factors were driving the two giants’ summit, it was impossible to arrive at any magic agreement to resolve all outstanding issues. It is such a strange thing that the meeting convened without a clear and previously agreed agenda. The summit achieved a kind of ‘understanding’ on a limited number of issues and not a clear official agreement. Yet, it helps ease the current tension in bilateral ties.

In the immediate aftermath of the summit, it has become very clear that President Trump’s positions and remarks at the press conference in Helsinki on July 16 stirred the “hornet’s nest” in the American “Institute” and “deep state” — a fact that will be more limiting than the possibility of upgrading US-Russia relations. It may even lead to a setback in these relations.

“It was impossible to arrive at any magic agreement to resolve all outstanding issues at the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit. ”
-As’ad Abdul Rahman
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Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.

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