Why there’s little hope for success from Trump-Putin summit

While the world waits expectantly for the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit, scheduled for July 16, chances of reaching agreement on issues between the United States and Russia are slim. Not to worry, said national security adviser John Bolton. Having the summit is a success, regardless of the results. In other words, success no longer is judged by any measurable achievement, but by process alone. It is a very Washingtonian view of the world.

Russian meddling in the 2016 elections will not be on the agenda. President Donald Trump repeatedly has stated that he doesn’t believe any meddling took place — thereby putting him in opposition to the unanimous conclusion of all four main Intel Community directors: CIA, FBI, NSA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence. He quotes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of meddling as fact. In the 2015 Russian National Security Strategy, Putin identified the United States as an enemy of Russia. President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchiff urges GOP colleagues to share private concerns about Trump publicly US-China trade talks draw criticism for lack of women in pictures Overnight Defense: Trump to leave 200 troops in Syria | Trump, Kim plan one-on-one meeting | Pentagon asks DHS to justify moving funds for border wall MORE, therefore, accepts the words of an avowed enemy of this country over that of his own government.

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Other issues will have to be addressed, but American and Russian goals around the world have become diametrically opposed. In Syria, the United States wants the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, while Russia intervened in the country’s civil war to keep Assad in power. In Iran, the United States has withdrawn support for the Iran nuclear deal, hoping to isolate the mullahs in power; on the other hand, “The positions of Iran and Russia on regional issues are very close,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. In November 2017, during his visit to Tehran, Putin described Russian-Iranian relations as “very productive.” Iranian military chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri confirmed close military ties between the two countries.

 

In Ukraine, President Trump has intimated that sanctions should be weakened, calling for Russia to be readmitted to the G7. This might be welcomed in the Kremlin, since it would mean that Russia would pay no more than a minimal price for its aggression. On the war front itself, the United States wants to see peacekeepers along the border with Russia. Putin opposes this measure, stating the peacekeepers should only separate rebel forces from the Ukrainian army — assuring the rebel areas would remain independent. Other conflicts in the area — Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan — hardly register on the White House’s radar.

In Turkey, Russia is building gas pipelines and nuclear power plants, while selling the Turkish military S-400 missiles. By contrast, the United States is moving to cancel the sale of the F-35 joint strike fighter to Turkey. Further into the Middle East, the Trump administration is about to offer a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Visiting Hamas officials in Moscow report that the Russians have agreed to oppose the American peace plan.

Probably the best hope for bilateral ties is Russia’s support for President Trump’s meeting with President Kim Jong Un of North Korea. While Russia has praised the recent Singapore summit, it has begun to throw a diplomatic wrench into future U.S.-North Korean talks. North Korea must have “absolute security guarantees” before Kim surrenders his nuclear arsenal, says President Putin. In meeting with North Korean and Chinese officials, it appears that Russia is trying to limit North Korea’s ability to take interim steps. The reason is not hard to fathom: as Russia continues to oppose NATO expansion on its western border, it would hardly be pleased with a country turning to America to its east.

America is attempting to pressure Venezuela’s leaders to change their anti-democratic ways, through the imposition of sanctions. Russia, however, continues to support Venezuela against all odds. President Nicolas Maduro has two Russian advisors, Denis Druzhkov and Fyodor Bogorodsky; they have helped the Venezuelans to launch the cryptocurrency the Petro. According to Time magazine, Putin personally signed off on the operation to help Venezuela avoid American sanctions.

North, south, east or west, American and Russian positions are in juxtaposition. One can hope that the two superpowers will find common ground to reduce tensions, but hope for compromise remains dim.

James J. Coyle, Ph.D., is a non-resident senior research fellow at the Atlantic Council and the director of global education at Chapman University, Orange, California. He previously was director of Middle East studies at the U.S. Army War College, first secretary for political-military affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey, and a special assistant to the FBI/New York Joint Terrorism Task Force. He is the author of “Russia’s Border Wars and Frozen Conflicts” (2017).

This article has been updated from a previous version.