What deal are Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin planning to make? Even before the summit in Helsinki, it's clear that the US president may sacrifice European allies on the altar of his own vanity, Christian Trippe writes.
Donald Trump wants to speak to Vladimir Putin in private, just the two of them, one interpreter each. No political advisers will be present; no one will take minutes. This is how the White House wants it — and it goes against the fundamental rule of summits, one that is more than just convention. In doing this, Trump is fueling mistrust and stirring up the deep-seated fears of those who consider Russia a threat.
Trump and Putin are two of a kind. Both see themselves as strong men in a world of chaos; both see the countries they lead primarily as power states. For a long time now, Putin has been styling himself as the leader of all resolutely illiberal political forces. Trump, on the other hand, likes to view himself in the role of destroyer of the liberal institutions that shaped the world order after the epochal changes of 1945 and 1990.
The men have expressed their mutual admiration many times, in spite of all their conflicts of interest. This does not bode well for their meeting in Helsinki; they have very different expectations. As so often in the past, Trump is seeking media attention. He wants to stun the world with this meeting on its grand stage, some confident shoulder-slapping. Trump is keeping his political objectives — if he has any —under wraps.
Putin, however, has an agenda. He wants a free hand in Syria's civil war. He wants a free hand in Ukraine, which he sees as a zone of Russian influence in which he concedes limited sovereignty. Finally, he demands that the US and EU acknowledge that Russia's occupation of the Crimean Peninsula four years ago was not an annexation but a "reunification." The EU and the US imposed sanctions on Russia in response to the events in Crimea, and Putin is keen to have them dropped.
Putin's preferred candidate
As Trump traveled across Europe in July, a US special investigator has brought charges against 12 Russian agents accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election. Russia has long been suspected of having helped Trump's campaign: With hacker attacks, the theft of information, and social media campaigns aimed at influencing US voters.
Trump was, without doubt, the Kremlin's preferred candidate. But does that necessarily mean that he's in debt to Russia?
Speculation that Trump engaged in dirty business or personal dealings before his presidency and might be subjected to blackmail by Russian agents makes for sensational reading, but, until anything is proven, it is just speculation. Let's not get distracted from the policies that Trump is implementing. Anyone who snubs NATO allies, as Trump has done, is doing the work of opponents of the alliance. A US president who threatens to leave NATO is a gift for the Russian president. Will Putin thank Trump in Helsinki? We won't find out. Trump knows all too well why he doesn't want any record of his conversation with Putin.