Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki leaves the world flabbergasted

M. Serajul Islam | Published: July 17, 2018 21:39:26 | Updated: July 17, 2018 21:42:22

"Now the ball is in your court," President Vladimir Putin told President Donald Trump, handing him a ball from the 2018 World Cup at the joint press conference they addressed on July 16, 2018. —Photo: Yahoo News

President Trump made it more than evidently clear many times that he cares very little for the attempts of the Mueller investigation to find any connections between his presidential campaign and the Russians, an allegation, if proven, could have extremely serious legal complications for his presidency and for him personally. He has now met the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in a summit more to prove his contempt for those making what he believes is a big row about his campaign's Russian connections and underline that he has no concerns or fears from the Mueller investigations or Russia. At Helsinki, he emphasised unashamedly that he has developed a love affair for Russia and the Russian president Vladimir Putin.

All past US Presidents have considered summit-level talks with the Russian president and Russia's predecessor state, the Soviet Union, a matter of top priority for foreign policy preoccupations of the United States. Therefore, that President Trump would be eager to meet President Putin should have been a matter of routine diplomacy between the two countries. However, these are the times when the world has been turned on its head by President Trump and whatever has happened in the past is not really important to consider what is happening to the world now where the US President is literally behaving like a bull in a china shop.

The President Trump has now met President Putin not just with all the accusations against him of Russian connections during his campaign begging an answer, he met him following his summit in Brussels with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) leaders and thereafter a bilateral visit to Great Britain. In both Brussels and Britain, President Trump was openly disrespectful of USA's traditional European allies. The United States he is now leading has apparently considered and decided that it is time to change international politics and set it on a new direction because the system of international politics that had dominated since the Second World War had served its purpose and it was time to break that system and build a new one where the US and Russia would dominate, hand in hand, with Europe and the rest of the world, taking the back seat!

That the system of post Second World War and post-Clod War international politics needed adjustment was not an easily dismissible argument. President Trump got that part of the equation right. His attack on USA's traditional allies in NATO for leaving to the USA to bear the brunt of the NATO's huge military budget was justified for a president who is appealing to a base in his country who are eager to see their president put USA's interest that they could easily identify in simple terms, first. Perhaps, the Trump could also argue that he was using the stick against Europe on trade because the USA is not getting fair reciprocal treatment from its European partners.

However, what transpired in the Helsinki summit has left everybody flabbergasted. President Trump, outside his base of extremist supporters, has not caused anyone to expect him to come out with logical and rational decisions while deciding for the United States either in domestic politics or in the international sphere. But what he did in his meeting with President Putin and in the press conference thereafter was nothing short of humiliating, distrusting and ridiculing his own country and its intelligence in full focus and glare of the international community. He said categorically that he had asked President Putin if his country had interfered in USA election and that President Putin had denied and he had taken the claim on face value and did not like to pursue it any further notwithstanding the fact that his own intelligence had given to him evidence of that interference and the Mueller Commission set up by the Department of Justice was investigating into that interference. Thus a US president with the world as witness unhesitatingly admitted that he believed in the Russian intelligence over those of his own country!

That a US president or for that matter, any president of any country would on a foreign soil put down his own country's intelligence in the manner that President Trump has done in Helsinki was something that he and his supporters could defend only on a plea of "temporary insanity." Former CIA Director under President Obama John Brennan called the manner in which President Trump exposed and humiliated his country's intelligence as "nothing short of treason." He went on to further state that "not only were Trump's comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin." And many were forced to agree with the former CIA Director and that included almost all of USA's European allies who have stated that they could now no longer trust the United States under President Trump.

The surreal nature of President Trump's behaviour in Helsinki left journalists at the joint press conference scratching their head for questions not knowing what to ask. One journalist gathered his resolve and asked President Putin if he had any incriminating material on President Trump and his family to make him behave in the manner he did towards him and Russia. The journalist tried his best not to use the term "blackmail" but ended conveying that impression nevertheless.  President Putin's Russia stands against everything that the US values and its constitution upholds. It had forcibly annexed the Crimea and had interfered in northern Ukraine. Its membership in the G8 Group was suspended because of its Crimean annexation. President Putin's record on human rights at home has been extremely questionable. And he is blatantly dictatorial where his word is the law and the Russian system is the antithesis of the US system of democracy and rule of law.

At Helsinki, President Donald Trump openly called his predecessors "stupid" for destroying US-Russia relations. He proudly behaved as Russia's international spokesman arguing it was in USA's interest. He shamelessly adored President Putin that the latter hardly reciprocated. President Putin was nevertheless excited, in fact unbelievably so, that a US president was squarely blaming his own predecessors for questioning Russia's roles in international affairs before the world. Thus he watched with a mysterious smile on his face President Trump claiming that "four hours ago" he had undone all the damages of his predecessors during his talks with him - without, however, explaining how.  President Putin also did not care to know why. He obviously was only too happy that the most powerful president in the world was showing the willingness and earnestness to fulfill Russia's most important foreign policy goal to destroy the bedrock of USA's world dominance, namely its alliance with the European nations that would, if that happens, pave the way for Russia to dominate the world.

And for President Putin who no doubt must have had difficulty believing all that he heard, President Trump did all those for Russia and for him personally by humiliating his own country and its intelligence sources! International politics at the top, as long as one could remember, never witnessed anything more eerie and weird than what transpired in the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki and in the joint press conference of the two leaders soon afterwards. It was so eerily surreal and absurd that perhaps those living in any mental asylum must have had a hard time believing.

In the context of the FIFA World Cup that Russia just held successfully, President Putin scored all the goals in Helsinki and there were many.  President Trump did not score even one because he did not know the game and its rules and regulations. Otherwise, there could be no defence for President Trump's behaviour and performance in Helsinki. That brings to a mysterious part of the Summit, the 2-hour-long one-to-one meeting between President Trump and President Putin before the two sides met as teams without any accepted agenda. Nothing has emerged about that mysterious meeting. Did President Putin remind the US President that he had deliberately sidetracked the question at the press conference about whether he had incriminating evidence over the US President and his family?

Unless there was something like what the journalist had alluded to in President Putin's hands about President Trump and his family, there could be no explanation for the way President Trump behaved in Helsinki. The Helsinki summit and the press conference that followed could easily rank in the top as the weirdest and eeriest ones ever held in the annals of top-level world diplomacy in modern history.

M. Serajul Islam is a  former Ambassador.


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