By Andrew Moran
President Donald Trump had a tete-a-tete with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki to discuss election meddling, geopolitical issues, military, and international trade. It remains unclear if the two superpowers either talked about key topics of today or maniacally chuckled at the rest of the world – we can surmise that it is the former.
So, to quote the woman who will never be president, Hillary Clinton, what happened?
Diplomatic Gamesmanship at Putin-Trump Summit
The historic day began like any other: President Trump tweeted up a storm, angering his opponents – at home and abroad. In a couple of pre-summit tweets, President Trump bashed his predecessors, “U.S. foolishness and stupidity,” and “the Rigged Witch Hunt” for poor relations with Moscow.
“’Improved relations’ with Russia or any other country should never be the goal of American foreign policy. Instead, concrete objectives need to be defined, and then strategies for pursuing them – engagement, containment, isolation — need to be implemented.”
Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was also skeptical of the meeting because it lacked a “strategic purpose.”
President Trump and his counterpart then proceeded to display diplomatic gamesmanship. President Putin’s airplane had arrived in Helsinki nearly an hour after the summit was scheduled to start. Trump then took his time to arrive at the Presidential Palace where the deliberations were being held. Not to be outdone, Putin arrived in a brand-new limousine.
Prior to the face-to-face talks, which came days after 12 Russians were indicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, both men held a photo-op that some say was awkward. Trump congratulated Russia on holding “a really great World Cup” before moving on to more important matters. He conceded that both nations “have not been getting along very well for the last number of years,” but Trump is optimistic that “we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.
He told the press:
“I’ve been saying, and I’m sure you’ve heard, over the years, that getting along with Russia is a good thing not a bad thing.
I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers. We have 90% of the nuclear – and that’s not a good thing it’s a bad thing. I think we can hopefully do something about that because it is not a positive force it is a negative force, so we’ll be talking about that among other things.
And with that the world awaits and I look forward to our personal discussion which I think begins now and then we are going to meet our whole team. You have quite a few representatives as I do. We all have a lot of questions and hopefully, we will come up with answers most importantly. It is great to be with you.”
Putin, meanwhile, wants to normalize bilateral relations, come up with new strategies to fight against terrorism, and discuss current international issues, primarily the Ukrainian situation.
The two men then shook hands after delivering remarks. How did the media react? They were outraged because Trump appeared to wink at Putin. Perhaps they were angry because they had been waiting in a non-air-conditioned conference room, where hot soup was served for lunch. They then waited another hour for the joint press conference to begin.
The White House confirmed shortly after on Twitter that Trump and Putin held another bilateral meeting that featured more of their aides. Attending the bilateral on the U.S. side were U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, John Kelley, John Bolton, Fiona Hill, and Marina Gross. For Russia, six aides accompanied Putin, including spokesman Dmitry Petrov and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Trump seemed to be satisfied by the near three-hour meeting, telling reporters, “I think it’s a good start. Very, very good start for everybody.”
Trump: ‘There Was No Collusion’
Following the lengthy meeting – it was initially scheduled for 90 minutes that ran into overtime – a joint press conference was held.
The event was briefly delayed because security officials escorted an alleged U.S. journalist out of the building for interrupting the conference and holding a sign that read, “Nuclear weapons ban treaty.” (No, it wasn’t CNN’s Jim Acosta.)
As expected, the U.S. press also asked about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Putin and Trump dismissed the questions, denying that Moscow meddled in the electoral cost to help the real estate billionaire mogul win.
“President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” said Trump, adding that it’s important to find out where the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers and Hillary Clinton’s emails are.
The media sought some clarity on President Trump’s earlier tweets. Trump was asked if he holds Russia accountable for anything.
“I hold both countries responsible. I think that the U.S. has been foolish. We’ve al been foolish. We should’ve had a conversation a long time ago before I got to office. We’re all to blame. U.S. has stepped forward. We have a chance to do some great things. I do feel we have both made some mistakes. I think the probe is a disaster for this country. It’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated. There was no collusion. Everyone knows it. I beat Hillary Clinton easily.”
Putin encouraged the public to be “guided by facts, not by rumors” when a journalist demanded a reason as to why the American people should believe Russia did not interfere.
“Where did you get the idea that Trump trusts me – or I trust him?” asked Putin. “Can you name a single fact that would prove collusion? This is utter nonsense.
“I had to repeat what I said earlier, including in personal meetings with the president, Russia never interfered and doesn’t plan to interfere in U.S. domestic politics, including elections.”
Trump noted that the Democrats are using Russia as an excuse for their loss in “an election which, frankly, they should’ve been able to win because the electoral college is more advantageous to them.”
He added: “There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president.”
Reporters further inquired if Russia holds compromising material on President Trump. Once again, Putin dismissed the question:
“I did hear these rumors. When President Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn’t even know he was in Moscow… Nobody informed me that he was in Moscow… Please disregard these issues.
Moving forward, the U.S. and Russia will be working together to enhance cybersecurity, combat terrorism, protect Israel, ensure Syrian refugees return to their homes, and establish an expert council made up of political scientists, former diplomats, and ex-military leaders to improve relations.
Is this the last time Trump and Putin will meet? According to the U.S. president, other meetings will likely be arranged in the future.
“Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed. As of about four hours ago.
This was a very constructive day, a very constructive few hours we spent together.”
I’m sure we’ll be meeting again in the future, often.”
Last Stop: Helsinki
This was the last stop on Trump’s landmark European visit.
Trump will be bringing home a souvenir: a soccer ball from Putin to celebrate the U.S. being one of three hosts of the 2026 FIFA World Cup. The ball is truly in America’s court.
To highlight the McCarthyite paranoia of certain U.S. politicians, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recommended checking it “for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.” It’s apparent he disapproves of the positive meeting.
In just one week, he wielded his might at this year’s NATO meeting in Brussels, slammed British Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit and trade, and called the European Union (EU) a “foe” on trade. To say it was an eventful journey would be quite the understatement.
And Trump’s base didn’t expect anything less.
What do you think of the Trump-Putin summit? Let us know in the comments section!