Donald Trump, the United States president, has once again belittled his Democratic compatriots and administration colleagues while upholding the declarations of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
The first one-on-one summit of the two presidents, which took place on July 16, started late — in the usual fashion of the Russian leader. It involved a private tete-a-tete that lasted two hours and culminated in a public display of chumminess at their joint press conference.
“I consider the meeting to be very successful,” Putin reflected on their conversation during the press-conference that took place after. “The cold war is over, today both Russia and the U.S. face many new challenges and we have a joint wish to restore our relationships.”
Trump also stressed that being the two great nuclear powers, the U.S. and Russia should be getting along.
U.S. President Donald Trump (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference in the presidential palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 Photo: EPA-EFE/MAURI RATILAINEN
The Ukraine Question
The Ukrainian crisis was addressed only by Putin in his initial speech. He called the events in Ukraine an “internal crisis” and stated that he and Trump have agreed to “bring Ukraine’s authorities’ attention to the importance of the fair implementation of the Minsk agreements.” The U.S. president didn’t comment on the issue at all.
Trump’s position on the annexation of Crimea was also articulated by his counterpart: “President Trump considers Crimea’s annexation illegal, while we believe that Russia held a legal referendum.” Putin also added that “the question is closed.”
The Nord Stream 2 Question
Despite criticizing Germany for agreeing to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Trump said during the press conference that the construction of Nord Stream 2 would jeopardize the U.S. shale gas market in Europe, making the U.S. and Russia competitors.
Meanwhile, Putin said that Russia is ready to prolong the transit of natural gas through Ukraine if the ongoing dispute between the two countries’ gas companies is settled in a Stockholm arbitration court. Additionally, Putin said that the U.S. and Russia, as the two largest energy-exporting countries, should coordinate their efforts to regulate prices in the world's energy markets.
One of the biggest questions for the Helsinki meeting was set by U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Just days before the meeting, he announced a new indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers, charging them with conspiring to hack Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and state election systems.
The presidents agreed that there was “no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russia in the 2016 election.
Trump repeatedly defended his win in the 2016 election, attacking individuals who brought up issues about Russia’s role in the elections. "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today," he said after the summit.
Many American politicians and political advisors immediately condemned the U.S. president’s refusal to acknowledge Russian meddling in the 2016 election:
Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves. (1/3)
Just several days ago, 12 Russians were indicted for attacking our democracy.— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) July 16, 2018
Today, America's so-called leader embarrassingly failed to stand up to the person who spearheaded the attack.
Seriously, what does Putin have on Trump that's he's so afraid?
This is an astounding news conference even by Trump standards. The President of the United States just questioned publicly the conclusions of the US intelligence community and spread conspiracy theories to excuse Russia’s cyber attack on the United States. Treasonous.— Michael Carpenter (@mikercarpenter) July 16, 2018
Tit for Tat
Putin reiterated that Russia has not interfered in U.S. domestic politics and does not plan to.
He suggested that Special Counsel Mueller make an official request to Russia, implying that Russian intelligence might even assist in the interrogation of its 12 agents accused of conspiring to meddle in the US elections.
However, the Russian president added the condition that the U.S. grant reciprocal access to American citizens that “we believe have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia.”
Putin named Bill Browder as an example. Browder, who was once Russia’s largest foreign investor, initiated the Magnitsky Act – U.S. legislation that applies travel bans and asset freezes to individuals suspected of human rights abuses from all over the world after his anti-corruption lawyer died in a Russian prison.
Putin also stated that Mueller’s allegations are of an individual nature and this matter must be dealt with in court. “I believe Russia is a democratic state, and if the US is a democratic state — only a court can accuse someone of election meddling,” he said.
/By Mariia Ulianovska and Larissa Babij