The first in person meeting of Donald Trump & Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 meeting got off to a rather awkward beginning with the international press flashing away and the two Presidents seated side by side at the center of a half moon, where they were flanked by their foreign policy gurus, Tillerson Lavrov, while translators perched behind their shoulders. Their words were formal and correct but their body language was telling a different story. The tensions of the last months have definitely taken a toll. All were clearly uncomfortable in this very public meeting, although Trump did manage a respectful handshake. And Putin, who never smiled through the main event, leaned in after it was called to a close and said something to Trump that caused them both to smile.
I made a little slide show of amusing moments from this bizarre meeting:
I chuckle every time I see them, but given the fact that these are the leaders of countries with thousands of nukes, it really isn’t so funny. The various reports on the real meeting that followed were not encouraging. Trump said they had a great meeting and discussed all the important issues, Syria, Ukraine, North Korea and Election Hacking. The meeting lasted nearly 2 hours and CNN reported that the latter part of the meeting was an extended argument about Russian election hacking. I have to assume that Putin said they didn’t do it and Trump persisted in the demand that he apologize and/or say he won’t do it again. But the announced resolution, was a general plan for the US and Russia to work together on Internet security at at some point in the future. The US press, however, reported widely that the President Trump gave President Putin the business about hacking our election and demanded that he “stop now”!
I can’t imagine how the discussion on Korea could have unwound. Prior to the G20, Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi got together and wrote up a statement on Korea which gives the US a taste of the ir own medicine. They make a number of general statements on chilling the situation out then write a prescription for what the US should do to make that happen. They suggest something that the US has repeatedly refused to do over the last decade. They propose that the US stop having war ‘games’ with South Korea on the North Korean borders with all manner of weapons aimed at them and stop talking about plans to assassinate the North Korean President. In return, North Korea will stop developing a nuclear arsenal and ballistic missile technology to transport them. Unfortunately, though it’s nice to hear, this sounds to me like a non-starter for the US.
The ‘good news’ is that they decided to have a cease-fire in southern Syria (where the US has recently been shooting down Syrian military air craft and attacking Syrian troops on the ground). This would be a great thing but in Syria, earlier cease-fires of this sort haven’t lasted very long due to the impunity of US military leadership who apparently want an all out war there. But, you never know.
President Trump was somewhat alienated from his EU allies at the G20. His withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Agreement has not been well received there, nor has his Muslim travel ban which restrains the United States from absorbing some of the refugees from US wars who are pouring into Europe. Trump’s rejection of the TPP and distaste for NAFTA are popular with ordinary people in the EU as well as the US, but present a real threat to the technocratic rulers and the banks they serve. While Trump was in Europe, Congress voted for additional economic sanctions against Russia which will interfere with European countries efforts to purchase inexpensive gas and oil. Meanwhile, his support for NATO is contingent increased dues collection from these same governments. He isn’t doing them any favors.
But getting back to Turmp’s meeting with Putin, this too became an affront to the Europeans as the meeting went over two hours instead of the scheduled half hour, leaving the rest of the conference twiddling their thumbs while awaiting their return. They actually deployed Trump’s wife to retrieve him, but she returned sans spouse and perhaps somewhat embarrassed by the experience. The ‘liberal’ press in the US talk about the Russians manipulating Trump, but he was drawn to them from the start. Clearly a complete breakdown of communication with the other nuclear behemoth across the globe is a serious problem. Mark Sleboda, an American academic living in Russia, commented on RT’s Crosstalk this morning that any agreements made in the Trump-Putin meeting would have to have been arranged in advance with there Foreign Ministers involved. If that’s the case, then perhaps the press conference I photographed above was nothing more than choreographed show for the press. After all, Trump had his own successful Reality TV show before becoming President.