Russian President Vladimir Putin described the July 16 summit with US President Donald Trump as a “success” and a “fruitful round of negotiations” in the subsequent press conference, as did President Trump, who seemed to largely reiterate the comments of his Russian counterpart. But not everyone agrees that this meeting was as productive as the two world leaders are making out.
This is the view of Melinda Haring, Editor of Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert blog. “The summit itself was not just a press conference of platitudes, it wasn't just a press conference of hot air, it was actually worse. It was a press conference of moral equivalency,” Haring told Hromadske.
With no mention of the downing of MH17, the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of Georgia and poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal on UK soil, Haring also believes that this press conference showed “how naive Trump is about modern Russia and about Putin.”
In fact, Trump appeared to avoid questions of foreign policy and deferred to domestic issues, according to Haring.
One issue Trump was not able to avoid, however, was the allegations of Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential elections. And despite agreeing at the time with Putin that Russia had no involvement in these elections, and essentially undermining the work of US intelligence officers, Trump reversed his position just 24 hours later, stating that he had misspoken at the conference.
According to Haring, this may be exactly the effect Putin intended for this meeting:
“I think the bottom line is that Putin wants a lot of fighting in the US system, and that's what's happening here,” Haring commented, speaking before Trump’s humiliating backtrack. “It's really splitting people apart, and it's splitting people apart ahead of our congressional elections this fall.”
Trump did not touch on the situation in Ukraine either, and President Putin only briefly spoke about the conflict, referring to it as an “internal conflict” and urging the US to do more in ensuring Ukraine upholds the Minsk ceasefire agreements.
However, as Haring told Hromadske, there may not be cause for concern in terms of US-Russia relations and their impact on Ukraine, given the discrepancy between what the US President says – and tweets – and his policies.
Haring says Trump’s actual policies on Ukraine have been “very tough,” what with the US’ recent decision to arm Ukraine and the continuation of sanctions against Russia that began under the Obama administration.
“I would just encourage foreign audiences to not take what he says too seriously, and to look at his policies,” Haring adds.