Helsinki Meeting

Helsinki Meeting
US President Trump met Mr. Vladimir Putin in Helsinki for their first one-on-one meeting. The meeting comes after 12 Russians were charged with hacking in the 2016 US elections. For more than 210 years, Russia..

US President Donald Trump met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki for their first one-on-one meeting. This meeting comes after 12 Russians were charged with hacking in the 2016 US elections.

Background

For more than 210 years, Russia and the United States have shared a multi-faceted diplomatic relationship. At one point they even shared a land border when Russia had a settlement at Fort Ross, California. In 1859, the US agreed to a proposal from Russia to purchase Alaska for $7.2 million as the latter was hopeful that the US would offset the designs of its greatest rival in the Pacific- Great Britain. Over this period, the two countries have competed for political and economic influence, and cooperated to meet mutual global challenges.

In 2014, major sanctions were imposed on Russia by Western allies, after the Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Since then, the US has imposed a number of sanctions on Russian entities for their involvement in Ukraine and Syria, and also for their alleged interference in the US Presidential elections.

On August 2, 2017, President Trump signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) into law. This limited the amount of money that Americans could invest in Russian energy projects and made it more difficult for US companies to do business with Russia. Under this act, any country trading with Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors could also face sanctions.

Helsinki has a rich history of high-level negotiations between the nuclear powers. It will be the fourth time that top leaders from these two sides will meet there. Finland has historically been used as neutral territory since the Cold War. The most famous security summit was in 1975, between US President Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, who signed the Helsinki Accords on territorial issues and human rights.

Analysis

US President Donald Trump met Russia's Vladimir Putin on Monday, ending a tumultuous European tour. The two leaders met one-on-one for the first time and were joined only by their interpreters.

Mr. Trump previously elaborated on what would be discussed at the meeting, during a press conference in the UK. "We'll be talking about Syria," he said. "We'll be talking about other parts of the Middle East. I will be talking about nuclear proliferation." However, this high profile meeting has no particular agenda and it is clouded by Trump’s disruptive diplomacy, making it impossible for anyone to predict its course.

The summit comes after 12 Russians were charged with hacking in the 2016 US elections. There have been calls in the US for Trump to cancel the meeting altogether, over the indictments of the Russian military intelligence agents. Russia has denied the allegations, and said it was looking forward to the talks as a vehicle for improving relations.

Both leaders will feel they have won, simply by meeting with all eyes on them. President Putin, still basking in the glory of hosting the World Cup, will project Russian power as he stands shoulder to shoulder with his American counterpart. President Trump will again savour the spotlight as the world's self-proclaimed dealmaker, as he attacks allies and admires men like the Russian leader.

Mr. Trump began the day of the meeting by blaming the United States for its poor relationship with Russia. He cast aspersions on the federal investigation into Moscow’s cyberattack on the 2016 presidential election even as he said he felt “just fine” about meeting with Mr. Putin. In a pair of tweets sent on Monday, Mr. Trump twice branded the investigation into Russia’s election interference, the “Rigged Witch Hunt.” That investigation, and “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity,” he wrote, are why the United States’ relationship with Russia “has never been worse.”

Trump, however, did not mention the factors that are usually cited in the West as causes for friction with Moscow: Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its support for rebels in Ukraine and the Assad regime in Syria, its meddling in the elections of the United States and in those of other countries, and the nerve agent poisonings in England that the British government has said was instigated by the Kremlin.

Counterpoint

Ahead of the summit, Andrey Kortunov General Director of the RIAC, a Russian think tank, said that prospects of a breakthrough seem difficult in the Helsinki meeting, as Russia will favour the EU over the US.

“It is the European Union that is Russia's main trading partner, the main source of investment and new technologies. On a number of important issues for Moscow –the Iranian nuclear deal or the status of Jerusalem, for example – European positions are way closer to Russian than to American ones,” Kortunov added. “In general, European countries are more reliable and predictable partners than the US.”

Assessment

Our assessment is that since Trump has not directly condemned Putin for the election meddling, this is a step to foster better US-Russia relations. We feel that Trump’s enthusiasm to fix relations with Russia comes at the cost of sidelining the US’s own allies. We believe that Trump’s attempt to overlook the West’s criticism of Russia will only culminate in consequences domestically for him.

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