President Trump has been on the road quite a bit recently, both around the nation and on the other side of the world. But if the latest indications prove true, we’re going to be in line for one more such journey before long, with Trump traveling to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. While this might be an opportunity for another high-profile “moment” on the international stage, is there much to be gained from such a meeting right now? The Hill is reporting that John Bolton is going to be heading out in advance to soften the ground, but the details are a bit sketchy.
Fresh off a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that saw history-making images plastered on screens around the globe, President Trump is zeroing on another headline-making summit — one with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
National security advisor John Bolton is heading to Moscow next week to discuss a potential meeting between the two leaders.
A summit could provide the opportunity to push Putin on his misdeeds: the invasion of Ukraine, support for the Syrian regime, the poisoning of an ex-spy in England and interference in U.S. and other Western elections.
“There’s no point in having a summit unless you’re going to stand up to Putin,” said Nile Gardiner, director of the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
I can see what Gardiner is saying here and he’s right to a certain degree. I would modify that by saying there’s little to no point in scheduling a meeting with Putin unless you have something constructive to talk about. Part of that could certainly be asking for some answers about the current situation in Ukraine. We could also ask what he’s up to in Syria, particularly regarding Russia’s cooperation with both Assad and Turkey in going after the Kurds. Toss in the poisoning of the exp-spy in England if you like.
But there are other areas where mutual cooperation (or at least a lack of aggression) could be productively discussed as well. We are now both major energy exporters and our potential markets come into conflict in both Europe and eastern Asia. Russia is in the process of cutting some deals with South Korea over trade, travel and infrastructure through North Korea, supposedly only after Kim Jong-un’s nukes are dismantled. Might not hurt to chat about that.
But even with all of those topics up for grabs, it brings me back to the original question. Would it truly be worth it at this juncture? Putin might be willing to discuss some sort of energy trade deal, but that’s not going to get hammered out in one meeting even if they both want to discuss it to begin with. Putin will be more worried about China’s position regarding North Korea than Trump’s and we can’t reasonably expect Russia to jump in on our side. And as for his past misdeeds, what would Putin say in private that he doesn’t already put out through state-run media? It’s not as if Trump’s going to trick him into saying, “Okay, Donald You got me, you rascal. I poisoned the spy.” He has a standard story about Russia’s right to defend Russians in Ukraine. The only area where there might be some wiggle room would be on Syria but that doesn’t seem terribly likely to be productive either.
The real concern here is if the trip works out to be a complete flop or “little more than a photo-op” as most of the media will doubtless declare. The President spent a lot of time on the campaign trail poking fun at Hillary Clinton and the magical reset button. If he’s going to invest this sort of political capital in such a summit he’s going to want to come away with something substantial. But at least initially, it’s a mystery to me what that might be.