The most talked about United States President, Donald Trump had his much-anticipated face-to-face meeting with the three-time world’s most powerful man and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, during the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, to discuss alleged Russian interference in last year’s US elections and other issues militating against their diplomatic relations. KINGSLEY OPURUM examines the impact of US, Russia
Many pundits have continued to wonder how the world will look like if the two most powerful countries, US and Russia, resolve to end their long-running diplomatic rift and form strong alliance.
The world is in the grip of economic and political turmoil, and if Donald Trump can join forces with Vladimir Putin to pitch tent against the most dreaded terrorist group, ISIS, which has been wreaking havoc across the globe, the world will certainly be free from terrorism.
There are crises going on in Asia, Middle-East and Africa, which require the attention of US and Russia to wade in and restore peace in crisis-ridden regions.
It is reassuring to recall that Trump, during his 2016 presidential election campaign, made several suggestions that he would alter the nation’s policy to encourage a more amicable and harmonious relationship with Russia and its President, Vladimir Putin.
US-Russian economic relations have deteriorated in recent years due to conflicts of a geopolitical nature involving the Ukraine, Syria and NATO defence positioning in Europe.
It’s unclear whether apparent goodwill between Trump and Putin will be sufficient to overcome considerable challenges that have crept up for diplomacy between the two nations in recent years. However, the prospect of improved relations is an encouraging sign that may yield economic dividends for both countries in addition to their other main economic partners.
Some analysts believe that Trump’s meeting with Putin must have addressed some thorny issues including the countries’ bilateral ties, as the Russian leader was expected to push for Moscow’s take on international relations – that of the interests of leading powers taking precedence over the existing order.
For a man given to outbursts of temper and personal attacks, Trump has always treated Putin with delicacy, and his admiration for his Russian counterpart has never been in question.
Putin has been far more cautious. He has called Trump “colourful”, which the American took for a compliment.
In a meeting that lasted longer than either side had planned, Trump and Putin discussed alleged Russian meddling in the US election on Friday but agreed to focus on better ties rather than litigating the past.
Trump, a Republican who called it an “honor” to meet with the Russian president, drew swift criticism from Democrats at home, who accused him of dismissing US intelligence and giving Putin’s denial, reiterated on Friday, of Russian interference too much weight.
Political watchers have contrived to imagine how Russia could possibly and successfully meddle in elections of almighty United States, believing that it could be a ploy by Trump’s political detractors to worsen US-Russia relations under his watch.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters at a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 major economies in Hamburg that Trump had “positive chemistry” with Putin during the meeting, which lasted some two hours and 15 minutes.
He opened their discussion by pressing Putin about “the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election” and had a robust exchange, Tillerson said.
The Russian president has denied any meddling in the US democratic process last year and Moscow has asked for proof that it took place. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Trump accepted Putin’s assertions that the allegations, backed by US intelligence agencies, were false.
Tillerson said they both sought to move on. “The presidents rightly focused on how do we move forward from what may be simply an intractable disagreement at this point,” Tillerson said.
That explanation did not sit well with Democrats.“Working to compromise the integrity of our election process cannot and should not be an area where ‘agree to disagree’ is an acceptable conclusion,” said US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in a statement.
On Thursday in Poland Trump gave lukewarm support to the view that Moscow interfered in the 2016 US political process. Trump promised a rapprochement with Moscow during his campaign but has been unable to deliver because his administration has been dogged by investigations into the allegations of Russian interference in the election and ties with his campaign.
Trump has continued to say that his team did not collude with Russia. Tillerson said they agreed to work on commitments of “non-interference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those in other countries.”
Andrew Weiss, a former National Security Council official responsible for Russia, said Trump had sent the wrong signal with upbeat body language and by not pushing Putin harder on alleged Russian interference in the US presidential election.
“The atmospherics were chummy,” said Weiss, who is now at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington. “The clear push from Trump to normalize US-Russian relations was on display in the meeting.”
The two leaders spent a lot of time discussing Syria, and after their meeting an agreement between the United States, Russia and Jordan on a ceasefire in southwestern Syria was announced.
Recall that US-Russia relations almost worsened when Trump ordered attack on Syria, which ruffled Putin feathers and other allies. The face-to-face encounter was one of the most eagerly anticipated meetings between two leaders in years.
Trump and Putin spoke through translators with their respective foreign ministers present for six minutes before reporters were allowed into the room for their statements. Afterwards the reporters were ushered out and the meeting continued.
“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Trump told reporters, sitting alongside the Russian leader.
“We’ve had some very, very good talks. … We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned. And it’s an honor to be with you.”
Putin, through a translator, said: “We spoke over the phone with you several times,” adding: “A phone conversation is never enough.”
“I am delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President,” he said, noting that he hoped the meeting would yield results.
The encounter went longer than expected, and first lady Melania Trump came in at one point to urge them to conclude, Tillerson said. The two men later joined other G20 leaders at a concert. Mrs. Trump sat next to Putin at dinner.
Before the get-together, some feared the US president, a political novice whose team is still developing its Russia policy, would be less prepared for the talks than Putin, a former KGB agent who has dealt with previous US presidents and scores of other world leaders.
Amid criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine and Syria and the investigations into its role in the US campaign, Trump has come under growing pressure to take a hard line against the Kremlin.
On Thursday, Trump delivered some of his sharpest remarks about Moscow since becoming president, urging Russia to stop its “destabilizing activities” and end its support for Syria and Iran.
But Trump stopped short on Thursday of any personal criticism of Putin and declined to say definitively whether he believed US intelligence officials’ assertion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election.
“I think it was Russia but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said on a visit to Poland.