Trump kicks off Russia summit: The world wants to see us get along

“Getting along with Russia is a good,” Donald Trump told the press while greeting Vladimir Putin, “not a bad thing. … The world wants to see us get along.” That may depend on which part of the world one asks. Trump predicted that the two countries will have an “extraordinary relationship,” but refused to discuss interference by Russia in the previous election:

President Donald Trump says at the start of his summit with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki that he thinks “the world wants to see us get along.”

Trump says the two countries have “great opportunities,” saying they have not been getting along for the past few years. He says he thinks they can have an “extraordinary relationship.”

He says their discussions will involve trade, the military, missiles, nuclear weapons and China, including their “mutual friend” China’s Xi Jingping. He did not mention Russia’s meddling in the U.S. election.

The two leaders were seated together in a room adorned by American and Russian flags at the Finnish Presidential Palace, separated by a small table.

Putin offered a terse opening statement, and didn’t show much reaction to the translation of Trump’s remarks. It’s certainly not the first time Putin has heard the general thrust of these kinds of remarks, having been around to meet Trump’s two predecessors, both of whom had the same idea about resetting the Russia relationship at times. Speaking of which, Trump had earlier blamed “stupidity” on the part of previous American administrations for the current state of the US-Russian relationship:

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met here Monday for their first formal one-on-one summit, firmly shaking hands hours after Trump began the day by blaming his own country, rather than Russia, for the hostilities between their two nations. …

Although most U.S. officials argue that Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, use of a nerve agent on British soil and aggression in Ukraine and Syria have worsened relations, Trump instead faulted “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” in tweets Monday morning, as well as the expansive Justice Department investigation into Russia’s election intrusion.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted Monday morning as he prepared for his meeting with Putin.

It’s important to keep communications open with Moscow, but it’s also important to remain clear-eyed about the nature of the Putin regime. Unfortunately, it appears that we’re about to repeat history for the third administration in a row. This is the very same attitude that the Obama administration had with Russia. Hillary Clinton’s “reset button” was a crude insult to George W. Bush, who had gotten burned by Putin in the invasion of Georgia after spending several years convinced that Putin was a peacemaker. Barack Obama wanted a deal to reduce nuclear weapons too, and wanted it so badly that he advised Putin stooge Dmitry Medvedev in 2012 to tell Putin that Obama would have “more flexibility” after the election to offer concessions for such an extraordinary deal.

Rather than get the deal, Russia invaded Ukraine, seized Crimea, and launched a massive intelligence operation to disrupt our elections. Putin has conducted brazen and dangerous assassinations abroad for years, and apparently had that option in mind here for some defectors until we expelled dozens of their operatives this year after the Skripal poisoning. And even after those invasions and the series of unusual deaths among Putin critics, the Obama administration remained passive about the Russian interference operation in hopes of getting a grand nuclear-weapons deal to reset relations once again. One would think we would have learned something from that set of outcomes.

Instead, here we are … again. The only consistent foolishness and stupidity over the years has been the absolute belief by three presidents in a row that the problem with Putin has been America. Putin, however, is a dedicated Russian imperialist who sees the US not as a competitor but as an opponent, one that he can at times manipulate for his own ends. Putin is not interested in an extraordinary relationship; he’s interested in taking back the Russian empire, very possibly including points farther west than Ukraine.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t meet with Putin and keep the lines of communication open, but we should do so realistically. We met with the Soviet premiers during the Cold War and did so to our benefit in most cases. However, we didn’t meet with the Soviets to plan on being allies by doing so. After almost two decades of Putin’s rule, one would hope that we would have figured out the difference by now.

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