Staunton, July 13 – At all previous summits between American and Russian leaders, the US president has participated not only as the representative of his own country but as the leader of the Western or Free World, Aleksandr Baunov says. But this time, he occupies that position if at all only “by inertia” rather than by acclamation.
That is because, the analyst and editor at the Carnegie Moscow Office says, “a significant part of the West does not recognize him in this role and isn’t certain that [Trump] who has proclaimed the interests of America above all will stand up for the interests of the allies” as well (https://carnegie.ru/commentary/76793).
According to Baunnov, “the reason for Trump’s mysterious respect for Putin and other leaders of non-Western countries is most likely his business background: Russia asks nothing from America, isn’t supported by it, and guarantees its own security. Business people like Trump respect independent enemies more than dependent friends.”
The people around Putin are not opposed to the normalization of relations with the West, Baunov says; “but the siloviki are frightened by recollections of Gorbachev’s trustingness. They want to return to a world without sanctions but only as the result of a skillful and clever deal,” one where the West lifts restrictions on Russia in exchange for marginal concessions.
A precondition for such an exchange, they believe, in Baunov’s telling, is that “the West must not form a single anti-Russian front,” something that is no longer as sturdy as it once was given Brexit, Trump’s criticism of allies like Germany and the rise of populism and nativism across the West.
Those developments, the Moscow analyst says, make “Trump the ideal partner for a relaxation in tensions without any [serious] concessions.” The US president is “an enemy of that very America which is hostile to Russia.” That means Vladimir Putin won’t have to make significant concessions or be “naïve” about the West.
Instead, “Russia now has been able to set up a summit for the sake of a summit,” exactly what Putin needs, especially because “Trump cannot bring back from Helsinki only joint photographs” with the Kremlin leader. The US president needs to show that he can achieve results more than Barack Obama did.
Trump got promises from Kim Jong-un at their meeting in Singapore but far from the all-encompassing deal he wanted and suggested he had achieved, Baunov says. “He would like to bring back something more impressive from Putin.” But the question is open as to just what that might be.
Putin doesn’t need a deal to have the summit be a success; but Trump does – and that gives the Kremlin leader the whip hand, especially given that Trump is there only in his capacity of president of the United States and not, as his predecessors always were, as the unchallenged leader of a united West.