The bromance between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin appears stronger than ever. At least this was the takeaway from the recent Helsinki summit that was a chance for the two world leaders to get together bilaterally.
As a sign of commitment to his Russian counterpart, the US president forgot himself and backed Moscow’s claims of non-interference in the 2016 American elections. In doing so, Trump effectively took the side of a foreign power over that of his own intelligence agencies; prompting certain quarters to cry treason.
All of which helped the two men to skirt, to a large extent, the pressing issues of the day. Such as the way forward on Syria, the Crimea question and non-proliferation. Though from the get-go, the pair had decided that the powwow would have no specific agenda. That its conclusion did not bring with it a joint communiqué further adds to the confusion as to what was and was not achieved.
That being said, most pundits agree that Moscow was firmly in the driving seat. Indeed, world media slammed the US president’s performance with Britain’s Daily Mirror sticking the knife in by labelling Trump, “Putin’s poodle”. They have a point; which may or may not have important implications for Washington’s relations with the EU; barring a Brexiteering Britain. On Syria, Putin talked of normalising the conflict to the point where refugees in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon would be safe to return. The underlying message being that NATO should pack up and go home. By contrast, however, Trump seemed entirely enamoured with just how well the American and Russian armies got along. Well, then.
To Middle East watchers, what was on show in Helsinki was sheer capitulation by the global superpower. Indeed, Yury Barmin of the Russian International Affairs Council noted how Trump failed to resoundingly slam Moscow for its campaign to capture what remains of the southwest de-escalation zone as well as Derraa, the so-called birthplace of the Syrian revolt. Not only that, the American president appeared almost to strain at the leash as he touted Putin’s manoeuvrings as being in line with Israeli security concerns. Meaning that the Jewish state would prefer to have Russian troops near its border than, say, Iranian ones. In return, Putin offered to streamline the Astana talks on Syria — comprising Moscow, Tehran and Damascus — with those of a broader international club that groups the US with Britain, France, Germany, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Thus Tehran, Washington and Riyadh would be expected to put aside their vast and overwhelming differences for the greater Syrian good. All of which suggests that Putin is either a very shrewd or optimistic chap.
Sadly, Trump made it all about him with his clumsy claims of misspeaking on the question of Russian electoral collusion. Whereas the summit should have placed Syria on top of the agenda. For warfare brings with it gross humanitarian disasters. And addressing the latter should have been everyone’s immediate concern. *
Published in Daily Times, July 19th 2018.