President Donald Trump’s long-awaited summit with Vladimir Putin hasn’t even happened yet – and the Kremlin strongman has already pocketed a win.
One of Putin’s strategic goals is dividing the Western alliance, which he views as a mortal threat. And sure enough, at Wednesday’s kickoff of the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump launched into a tirade against Germany, accusing the country of being a pawn of Moscow due to its heavy reliance on Russian natural gas. The comments shocked European diplomats, who are accustomed to gripes from American presidents about their defense spending and troop contributions, but expect to hear such complaints in private, and delivered with a lot more diplomatic finesse. The Kremlin couldn’t have scripted it better.
Even ahead of Wednesday’s fiasco, the meeting with Putin was causing great friction in the United States — including, reportedly, inside the Trump administration — and further eroding unity with the transatlantic community. President Trump will be sitting down with Putin in Helsinki on the heels of the disastrous NATO summit, and he seems eager – at almost any cost to alliances, U.S. democracy and national security interests – to build a positive, cooperative relationship with the longtime KGB agent, and Putin knows it.