What will/should Trump and Putin talk about?

Read few comments.

Questions:

1. What would you say Donald Trump expects from the meeting from Vladimir Putin and vice versa and are they going to get what they want or probably not so much?

2. Should Trump rise the topic of Russian election meddling in the conversation with Putin?

Answers:

Jörg Forbrig, Senior Transatlantic Fellow for Central and Eastern Europe, German Marshall Fund

1. Neither the U.S. President nor his Russian counterpart have high expectations to their first meeting, and a breakthrough and bargain of some sort can be safely ruled out. On the part of Donald Trump, six months of his presidency have seen no softening of the U.S. stance on Russia. If anything, Washington’s position vis-à-vis Russia has hardened, as witnessed by expanded sanctions on Russia, additional U.S. military assistance to Europe, and airstrikes in Syria. Adding to this is the close scrutiny, under which Trump finds himself for his Russia links, and he cannot possibly appear to concede anything to Putin. In short, there is no indication or much political leeway that the U.S. President may radically change his approach to Russia. This is perfectly understood in the Kremlin where any post-election hopes of a more conciliatory White House have evaporated. To further complicate things for Moscow, Putin is also not in a position to make any concessions that may help to normalize relations with the U.S. Confronting America, and the West broadly, is now the defining core of his presidency. Given his own re-election bid next year, Putin will surely avoid anything that could be seen as weakness on his part. Hence, neither the Russian nor the U.S. President are able to substantially alter their relationship at this point. To save face, though, they may announce some minor, if still important, initiatives to restore some cooperation, such as deconfliction in Syria.

2. President Trump absolutely should bring up this topic with Putin. After all, this was a direct attack on American democracy, there is enough evidence that Russia did work to influence the U.S. elections, many in the U.S. expect their president to address this issue, and a clear U.S. stance will help to limit Russian interference in democratic elections the world over. Yet it is more than likely that Trump will avoid this topic. So far, he has aggressively denied that Russian meddling may have helped his election, and he has tried to shift the blame variously on the Democrats, the intelligence community, and the media. Given this consistent denial, he can hardly be expected to perform what would be a complete u-turn on this issue.

Andrei KolesnikovSenior Associate, Chair of the Russian Domestic Politics and Political Institutions Program, Carnegie Moscow Center

1. The expectations are not overestimated, it looks like, that the aim is to found a ground for the future more concrete agenda. For me, this meeting is bad prepared from the point of view of the content. We can’t compare it neither with Reagan-Gorbachev negotiations, nor with Nixon-Brezhnev peace process. Not to mention, that main pragmatic Trump’s interest concentrates on visiting Warsaw on June, 6 and participating in the Three Seas Summit – he tries to split Europe and make Eastern Europe more pro-American.

2. Concentrating on the meddling topic is senseless and will spoil emotional atmosphere, so, I don’t think, that Trump will touch seriously this problem.

Thomas Schwartz, Professor of History and Political Science, Vanderbilt University

1. For President Trump, a successful meeting with Putin would involve some theatrics or what we call photo-ops – lots of pictures of the two smiling, some favorable body language between the two men, sincere looking and solid handshakes – along with some softening of Russian stances toward the US – maybe a pledge to cooperate on Syria, search for a settlement on Ukraine, and maybe some Russian words of assistance to the US on North Korea.  For his part Putin might want the good theatrics but also some statement by Trump promising an easing of sanctions toward Russia and words that indicated Russia was respected as an equal power, something the Soviet Union always craved during the Cold War and which Richard Nixon gave to them.  Will they accomplish what they want?  Possibly, because the bar has been set so low – expectations are so low – that it might be possible to declare the meeting a success even if it reaches a bare minimum of civil exchanges and good theatrics.

2. My personal opinion is that Trump should raise the issue of Russian meddling.  One thing he might do to cushion the blow might be to apologize for past American attempts to meddle in elections – maybe blame Obama, as he seems to like to do – and ask Putin to agree to the issue as a matter of general principle, that neither country should interfere in the other’s elections.  But this is a very sticky point for Trump, since he still sees any mentioning of this as a comment on the legitimacy of his election and Putin seems inclined to simply reject the accusation out-of-hand.  But maybe if Trump turns it into a detached general principle without specific allegations, he can convince Putin to sign on.

Gennady RudkevichAssistant Professor, Department of Government & Sociology, Georgia College & State University

1. There is no confirmed agenda for the talks due to Trump, and I don’t think Trump is going into this meeting expecting Putin to make changes to specific policies. Given Trump’s past statements about Putin, I expect him to talk in generalities and call for closer cooperation in the fight against ISIS. With North Korea recently being in the news, Trump might also ask Putin about his position on the matter.

Putin will want to see the extent to which Trump has been captured by the US foreign policy establishment. Trump keeps on vacillating between a pro-Russian position and mild condemnation of Russian behavior. Putin will want to see if Trump is serious about those condemnations and if there’s a way to nudge Trump back in a pro-Russian direction.

Putin has a good read on Trump, including Trump’s need for constant praise. I expect Putin to offer that praise, and maybe even join in criticism of the US media. From Putin’s point of view, he can probably get Trump to agree to a joint statement that reflects Russian preferences, but he’s unlikely to come away assured that Trump will remain friendly to Russia in the future (given Trump’s constant changes in foreign policy views and contradictions between Trump’s statements and statements from Ambassador Haley).

2. Trump won’t ask Putin about election meddling because he still refuses to believe there was any meddling. I’m not sure asking would make a difference: Putin already knows that American intelligence agencies believe Russia meddled in the election, and he has steadfastly denied it.

Mitchell OrensteinProfessor of Central and East European Politics , University of Pennsylvania, Associate, Center for European Studies, Harvard University

I think Trump looks up to Putin and will thank him for his support.  Putin will insist on dropping sanctions.  Trump will find it hard to comply in the face of Senate opposition.  Putin may press him to do it anyway, knowing that Trump may have to undermine US democratic processes to do so.  Trump may agree.  Trump has no ability to push Putin on anything and appreciates Russian election meddling, which helped Trump.  Putin has underlined that by accelerating the conflict with Ukraine in advance of the meeting.  Trump will continue to push US gas exports to Europe as a bargaining chip.  Neither side will get anything concrete from this meeting, though Putin will appear the winner, since meetings like this benefit Putin rather than Trump.

Thomas Scotto, Professor of Government and Politics, University of Strathclyde

I think the best answer I have to the question is that “I have no idea what Trump expects to get out of such a meeting.  Were it the case that there was a normal presidency, the US President would be pressing Russia on issues related to the Syrian and North Korean conflicts.  With a cloud hanging over Trump over collusion with Russia during the 2016 campaign, it is anyone’s guess as to what this meeting will be about.

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