The Helsinki summit: 5 things Trump must discuss with Putin

The Helsinki summit: 5 things Trump must discuss with Putin
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While President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE’s enemies on the left and right continue to push countless false narratives — that Trump is a Russian agent, a tool of Russian President Vladimir Putin, or that the Trump campaign only won the 2016 presidential election thanks to Moscow’s help — the administration can score a victory in Helsinki on Monday.

But before we explain how Trump can prove his critics wrong and start the process of building a working relationship with Russia, we must understand a bit of context.

Let’s start off by saying something quite unpopular these days, especially considering recent events: Russia and America no longer should be enemies.


Although their interests don’t overlap enough to consider a strong partnership or something greater, the bitter distrust and hatred shared by many in Moscow or Washington should have ended with the Cold War.

Except it didn’t.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia bucked an important trend in recent world history, by not joining the global community of nations or developing strong alliances with America as did past foes Japan, Germany or Italy.

Thanks to a long list of grievances between the West and Moscow — wars in the Balkans in the 1990s, NATO expansion, Russia’s invasion of Georgia and then Crimea, tensions over the Syrian civil war, the attempted hacking of our election, just to name the obvious — Russia once again is considered a rogue regime.

Moscow, in fact, is still searching for an answer to a question that has tortured its history pages for centuries: what is Russia’s proper place in the world?

Russia and America find themselves trying to repair the most broken of relationships — perhaps at the lowest point since the early 1980s. It will take many years to build any semblance of trust and some boundaries must be established, but a working relationship can be forged.

With that said, here are five items that should be on Trump’s summit agenda:

Call out Putin for election hacking, and draw a cyber red line:

While it seems quite clear Moscow tried — and failed — to hack America’s election, Russia has done a spectacular job in sowing chaos and discord.

Nonetheless, Trump must issue privately, and, if the opportunity avails itself, publicly, a clear warning that Washington will not tolerate any sort of hacking of its intuitions again.

Trump must draw a line in the sand, explaining to Putin that America would launch a massive counter-attack in cyberspace, impose additional sanctions and much more if Russia ever tried this again. Putin must know we mean business, or America’s enemies will attack our democracy through cyberspace again.

A truce in cyberspace:

Considering the above, it is time that both sides begin to figure out some way to ensure the internet is not a wild west for cyber warriors, allowing them safe refuge to strike their enemies with no repercussions.

This new domain of warfare must subscribe to some sort of rules or norms that govern what can and cannot occur. Otherwise, nations around the world will use the shadowy nature of the internet to attack each other’s institutions, steal each other’s more precious secrets or intellectual property, or worse.

There is the very real danger that a hacker could accidentally or intentionally go too far, with his or her actions having very real-world consequences of sparking a great-power war or far worse.

The Ukraine crisis:

Sure, this might not be on the front pages of your favorite newspaper, but there is a very real shooting war going on in Ukraine.

Russia continues to seek to destabilize the government in Kiev to ensure it can never join NATO or the European Union. At the same time, America has begun to arm Ukraine with weapons.

Talks in Helsinki must focus at least partly on finding a way to end this conflict, but at the same time, ensure that Kiev is not torn forever between Washington and Moscow — and in the process, torn apart.

The Syria crisis:

Countless dead, millions internally displaced and millions more scattered throughout Europe and around the world, the Syrian civil war is a cancer that has plagued humanity for too long.

Considering U.S. and Russian forces are operating in the skies and on the ground in close proximity, that should be enough to push both sides to find a way to end this bloody conflict.

It won’t be easy, with so many competing factions and hatred that rises along with the body count. Trump and Putin at least can begin a dialogue where both nations can work to find a settlement to this conflict.

The long term:

It might seem impossible now but Russia and America may share a common foe over the long term: China.

At least for the moment, Washington is tasked with confronting Beijing on a host of fronts, and Russia eventually might share America’s fears about a rising China.

Thanks to a history of tension, its geographic proximity and resource-rich empty lands to China’s north, and Beijing’s quest to reclaim lands lost during a time of weakness, there is ample reason to believe the rosy relationship between Russia and China might not last forever.

It would be wise for Trump to remind Putin of the budding superpower to his south and what that will mean for Moscow’s security situation in the years to come.  

While the path forward won’t be easy thanks to a history of animosity, there are ways to at least craft a working relationship between Washington and Moscow. Every American should cheer for that, since open geopolitical sparring between the world’s two nuclear superpowers is a dangerous dynamic that must be avoided.

Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He previously worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views voiced in this article are his own.