- Russian sub-plot of the Trump reality show keeps the global audience transfixed
- July 7 meeting of US and Russian presidents will draw more attention than ever
- Roles are reversed, with Putin learning how to deal with an erratic counterpart
- US has shown Moscow a tough stance on Syria before the G20 summit
- "Strategic stability talks" offered by the US might not be what Russia wants
- Trump unlikely to miss opportunity to show the world who's the boss
The show must go on. Photos: Shutterstock
By Nadia Kazakova
Roles are reversed for the Trump-Putin summit next month in Germany.
The twists and turns of the Russian sub-plot of the Trump reality show have kept the global audience transfixed, as if it has been intended. The forthcoming meeting between the American and Russian presidents would draw more attention than ever — and not everyone might like it.
President Vladimir Putin finds himself in an unlikely position where he must follow a script written and staged by someone else entirely. He is also learning — the hard way — how to deal with an unpredictable and eccentric head of a nuclear super-power.
The role reversal (from the Putin/Obama days) is both unexpected and oddly reassuring.
The Russian administration is dealing with what they see as a highly unpredictable US regime and, therefore, has turned into a shining example of diplomatic caution and think-twice-before-you-leap approach.
The Russian response to US actions (a missile strike and threat of another one in Syria, a new set of anti-Russian sanctions, unrequested disclosure of classified information by the US president) has so far been calm and relatively measured. Arguably it would be very different if a more predictable Hillary Clinton were in the Oval Office.
It is from this position of watchful weariness that the Russian administration is preparing for the first personal meeting between President Putin and President Trump.
The bilateral meeting to take place on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg was agreed back in May during a phone call between presidents. In early June, it was confirmed that it would go ahead, most likely on July 7, but without a news conference or the media being present.
A meeting between the Russian deputy foreign minister and the US undersecretary of state in St. Petersburg on June 23 was supposed to flesh out the details of the summit. But the Russian side cancelled that meeting after the US president signed off on a new set of sanctions against Russian individuals and entities on June 20.
The extra — and more serious — complications might have been avoided after the US administration managed to slow down the sanctions bill (passed by the Senate on June 14). It would have codified and significantly tightened the existing restrictions on the Russian energy and financial sectors.
On June 26, the White House decided to throw a side kick at Putin by issuing a warning of another chemical attack by the Syrian government. The statement was probably meant to be a broader warning to the Assad-supporting coalition to back off from attacking anti-regime forces supported by the US and its allies.
It has also shown Moscow a tough stance on Syria before the G20 summit in July.
The strong political headwinds have put a question mark over the format of the meeting between the US and Russian presidents, if not the meeting itself.
President Trump, however, is still keen on a full-scale bilateral meeting, with media access, according to the Associated Press
. His administration would rather see an informal “pull-aside” on the sidelines of the G20 forum.
The Russians are getting ready for any eventuality. Any format would do, according to Putin's press secretary Dmitry Peskov
. Putin himself has been philosophical and even lyrical about encountering Trump. "I believe that we will meet one day, for sure. But we are not in any haste," he said in an interview with the American filmmaker Oliver Stone.
After all is said and done, the summit is likely to go ahead on July 7-8, and, if Trump gets his way, it would be a formal bilateral meeting, with hand-shaking and cameras flashing.
The Russian president might be disappointed when he belatedly realises that US foreign policy has moved on without Russian consent while he was preparing for a tête-à-tête.
The Americans and their allies have already put stakes in the ground in Syria, and Russia has been warned of consequences if those stakes are ignored.
The Ukraine problem is being outsourced to Europe, and there might be little to discuss.
And the "strategic stability talks" offered by the US to Russia might not be what Russia has been hoping for. It might not be a dialogue between equal superpowers on geopolitical issues, but could be simply an offer to behave and get out of the way where US interests matter in return for easing off of sanctions.
It would be unlike Trump to miss the opportunity on July 7 to show the global audience who is the boss in the room — and who is there for a walk-in role.
Souvenir T-shirt. Photo: Shutterstock
— Edited by John Acher