US President Donald Trump is no stranger to outlandish statements. He has in the past rubbed world leaders on the wrong side ever so often that there was apprehension all around when he held the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.
While he was circumspect with Putin, he blamed strained ties between the United States and Russia on US ‘stupidity,’ especially the decision to investigate election interference. He also said he saw no reason to believe his own intelligence agencies rather than trust Putin on the question of whether Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 election.
While this brazenness of calling his own country’s action as ‘stupid’ was bound to encounter sharp reactions at home, that an angry response from a former CIA chief John Brennan would come soon after he made the statement showed the extent of outrage.
Brennan said Trump’s statement was nothing short of ‘treasonous’ and exceeded the ‘threshold of high crimes and misdemeanours.’
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One senator Lindsey Graham said this was a missed opportunity by Trump to firmly hold Putin accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.
One wonders whether Trump’s soft approach towards Putin had anything to do with his own involvement with the Kremlin leader in unhealthy practices to change the course of presidential elections in his favour. In the American system as it prevails today, it is inconceivable that Trump would ever be found out and would be held personally accountable.
Although nothing tangible emerged from the Trump-Kremlin talks, the two countries would put together a “working group” of businessmen from both countries. That that would kickstart greater economic cooperation between the countries it is premature to say.
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There was a ray of hope generated that on issues such as the situation in Syria, nuclear disarmament and anti-terrorism measures this could well be the starting point for some onward movement in the future. But there are far too many roadblocks that tend to come in the way in relations between the countries as has been seen on numerous occasions.
It does not take long for Trump to take on an adversarial role so there can be no reasonable confidence of Trump remaining non-adversarial for long. Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping seemed to be on the same page on many issues when they met before Trump unleashed his trade war against Beijing.
Speaking before Monday’s much-anticipated summit, Trump had said he hoped for an “extraordinary relationship” and blamed US-Russia tensions on previous administrations.
Some US politicians had called for the summit to be cancelled after 12 Russian military intelligence agents were charged with hacking the presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
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The Americans have been critical of Russia because of their military support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria as well as its destabilising actions in Ukraine. The accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 US election, and Trump campaign collusion in the effort have also evoked frowns.
The allegations are being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump, however, has consistently denounced the inquiry as a “witch hunt”. The 12 Russians indicted on Friday were targeted as a part of Mueller’s investigation.
Trump’s broadsides at German Chancellor Merkel at the recent NATO Summit and the suspicion he evokes among European leaders would predictably go down well with the Russians. If Trump is to endear himself to the Europeans, he will have to distance himself from Putin’s Russia.
Clearly, there are currents and cross-currents that Trump would have to reckon with. While the Mueller investigation would influence thecourse of US-Russia relations, much would also depend on the follow-up to the summit in Helsinki.