Article / 20 July 2017 at 8:30 GMT

Follow the bread crumbs for real insight into Trump/Putin dinner chat

Russia oil and gas expert
United Kingdom
  • Trump's political style might distract from what is happening in the world
  • Israeli opposition to the Syria ceasefire deal leaves Putin in an awkward position
  • The security situation in east Ukraine has deteriorated notably in the past week
  • Trump's talk with Russia's President Putin in Hamburg was widely noticed

By Nadia Kazakova

The steep learning curve of high level politics is turning into a precarious vertical climb with no safety ropes for US President Donald Trump. The spectacle, however, distracts from much what is happening in the background, whether intentionally or not.

The real big news of the last couple of days was that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he totally opposes the Syrian ceasefire deal that was announced by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump with some fanfare at their meeting in Hamburg on July 7. The ceasefire had been hailed as a breakthrough by both sides and is supported internationally, but now a key player in the region has effectively disavowed the agreement.


While protests (above) and formal gatherings grabbed the headlines as the G20 met in Hamburg, some interesting informal meetings also took place. Photo: Shutterstock
It is hard to imagine that the Israelis had not seen the draft document before it was made official. Netanyahu and Putin had a phone conversation shortly before the Russian president travelled to Hamburg and the ceasefire must have been discussed. In response to Netanyahu's statement on July 17, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov insisted that Israel's interests had been fully taken into account.

It is possible that some new intelligence has made Israel and the US uneasy about the agreement, or they have now doubts about ability of Russia (and Putin personally) to keep their side of the bargain.

Either way, this leaves Putin in a very awkward spot and puts in jeopardy the only real tangible outcome of the US/Russia summit in Hamburg. There is very little progress (and even some deterioration) regarding other sensitive Russo-American issues.

There have been no resolutions regarding Russian diplomatic property seized in the US by the Obama administration late last year. The Russians must have hoped for a swift return of their American dachas as a token but important gesture after the Trump/Putin meeting.

But that has not happened, and the return of the assets might drag on for a while. The Russian side insists on an unconditional return, but the Americans want something in return (such as land for a consulate in St. Petersburg, assurances on Syria, according to various Russian officials quoted in the Russian media).

On the US side, the White House released a short and terse comment on the ongoing discussion. If the comment about talks had been meant to make them sound business-like and half-positive, they should have avoided including a prominent "but" in this sentence: "The talks reflected a spirit of goodwill, but it is clear that more work needs to be done”.

Ukraine truce at risk

Meanwhile, in the east of Ukraine, the situation has deteriorated notably over the last week. The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that its monitors have been obstructed from carrying out their work. There has been an increase in shelling despite the "bread (harvest) truce" that had been agreed, which was meant to last from June 24 until August 31.

On July 18, the head of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's republic Aleksandar Zakharchenko made an unhelpful statement on his desire to unite the rest of Ukraine by forming a new state called Malorossiya (which means Little Russia). That would have sounded silly if not for the fact that the same person has signed the Minsk accord and is supposed to be working on its implementation.

All that and the failure of the Trump administration to deal with Obamacare at home have been drowned by bombshell news of Trump having a dinner talk with Putin at the G20 gala banquet in Hamburg on July 7.

Well, the dinner encounter was sort of inevitable if they put Melania Trump next to Vladimir Putin at the dinner table (Whose idea was that?). Trump was positioned opposite and must have a good view of the Russian president and the First Lady discussing gender politics and "even G20 agenda" (according to Putin's spokesman).

Trump Putin
 Putin and Trump on a wall in Vilnius, Lithuania. In real life 
 in Hamburg, they only talked. Photo: Shutterstock

It would be strange if Trump had not wanted to join in, especially given the subjects of the conversation. Apparently, Trump walked over and had a lively discussion with Putin (presumably, Melania was still involved). The chat must have felt like just a brief moment for the presidents, but seemed more like an hour to observers.

If Trump wanted to share some classified intelligence with Putin, he might have chosen a quieter spot than a dinner banquet (or simply passed it on via Melania in a USB device disguised as bread). More likely, though, President Trump walked over to take another measure of Putin, in a more relaxed setting than their formal meeting.

What Trump did not take into account, though, was that the Bank of England's governor Mark Carney had an operational mobile device with a camera (as dutifully recorded in a youtube video), as did probably many more people in the room; see this youtube video of the G20 dinner. 


– Edited by Clemens Bomsdorf and Robert Ryan

Nadia Kazakova is a specialist on Russia, particularly the oil and gas sector


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