The Russian-American relationship is no longer about Russia or America

And that was the point. For the Russian leader, 99 percent of the value of this meeting was its use in domestic propaganda. On Russia’s Channel One news station, a talk-show host waiting for the meeting to conclude marveled at its length (more than two hours) and called it a sign that Trump considered Putin more important than any other leader there. Snide Twitter posts kept flashing on screen (“Trump is like a schoolboy sitting next to Putin”). As an undemocratic leader who presides over a rocky economy, Putin needs to offer his public some reason to support him. This was it: He is at the center of the world stage. He calls the shots. He is munificently offering solutions to problems — in Ukraine, in Syria, in “cybersecurity” — that he himself has helped to create.

But looking at it from Trump’s point of view, the meeting was also successful. In light of the ongoing FBI investigation, he had to raise the difficult question of Russian interference in the U.S. election, even though he was reluctant to admit there had been such a thing as recently as Thursday. But he managed it. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson pointedly declared afterward that Trump had “pressed” the subject — and then dispensed with it: The two men wanted to move on and were not “re-litigating” the past. The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, declared that Trump had “accepted” Putin’s denial of interference as the truth. At the very least, the U.S. president can now tell himself that he doesn’t need to bring up that difficult subject again.

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