We may never know about the actual content of the summit meeting, given that it was totally private, however as I predicted, it appears that the meeting itself was indeed “easy” for both parties. Apparently no specific agreements were reached, even at a tentative level. And based on comments at the following press conference, there were no confrontations over Russian election meddling (much less broader Russian political warfare against the West), the Crimea, Ukraine, or any other potentially challenging topics. If there had been such challenges they certainly were not repeated in front of the press.
There are pervasive rumors that there have already been discussions relating to some sort of agreement over Syria, if not a formal one at least a working protocol which would involve the U.S. accepting Assad in place, accepting Russian security oversight over most of western Syrian and the Jordanian border and force the Iranian presence to back to the east avoiding any direct military confrontations with Israel. Part of that agreement may well involve Russian air defenses essentially giving a pass to Israeli attacks on Iranian surrogate forces on any occasions where they provoke Israel – which is essentially the current state of affairs. For all we know this mutual understanding may already be in place.
Of course while the meeting itself may have been easy, the following press conference was most certainly not. That is a story in itself.
However, what I promised to do earlier was to rate my own predictions about what appears to have happened, so I will stick to that. Essentially my assessment was that Putin has already made great progress against his own geopolitical goals so he had no need to press for anything new, a simple acceptance of the current state of affairs, in both Eastern Europe and Syria was sufficient.
And that appears to be exactly what he accomplished. A simple acceptance of the status quo gives Putin what he needed and beyond that communicates to the former Soviet bloc nations that they are pretty much on their own. If they didn’t already have that message before, they have it now. Basically if there was no new American push back, no challenge to the Russian military actions and political warfare which began in 2014, Putin’s message to the former Soviet states has been confirmed by inaction.
There is little doubt that message has been received across Europe, most precisely expressed by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, “We can no longer completely rely on the White House”.
Also, as I predicted there was absolutely no evidence of Trump taking the traditional mantle as the leader of the West, this was strictly America and Russia. No issues relating to political warfare or even covert action against Britain, France, Spain or other NATO countries were raised.
I had thought that Putin might actually push for some mutual security agreements, not only to solidify positions he already holds but to give some evidence of new action – some move to mutually work to stabilize the on again off again fighting on the front lines between Ukraine and its separatist areas, perhaps a joint security effort on the Jordanian border. If anything that concrete was discussed there are no signs of it so far and as far as I can see no joint working agreement was drafted. Not even one as slim as after the meeting with Kim and North Korea.
Another area I had speculated on was Putin’s offering up something in the way of nuclear weapons deals. That was mentioned in advance and apparently it was on the agenda for Trump. But the more I think about it, Putin can drive the U.S. into huge military programs and spending by just announcing advanced weapons and occasionally claiming success (mount a small ballistic missile on an attack jet and call it hypersonic). Actually an accord to suspend hypersonic weapons development would have been a really big deal, especially if it included an approach to China. But there is no sign Putin made any offers and now that I think about it, why would he?
The same goes for new Russian protests about NATO, given last week’s meetings why even push that issue. After last week you have statements in European capitals about not being able to rely on Washington, about the need to build a European force. Easy enough to let matters take their own course.
So, I claim victory on my Putin projections. I predicted Putin he had to do very little and he exceeded my expectations.
Now as to Trump. There were a number of ways that he could have worked certain deals to at least give the impression that there were benefits in US/Russian partnering. And as I follow the press today, it appears that his aides were anticipating just that sort of “pivot” – a move towards new agreements that would divert attention from Russian political warfare. If that occurred in the 90 minute meeting we have little evidence; it certainly did not occur in the press conference.
In public Trump returned to literally denying the Russian political warfare and that was that. The only Russian proposal he seemed excited about was to let the senior Russian GRU cyber officers indicted for intervening in American political affairs work with our own cyber intelligence people – potentially allowing them to determine exactly how we caught them at it. I imagine virtually everyone can see the problem with that offer from Putin – no matter how strongly Trump endorsed it.
So – when I predicted Trump would pursue agreements which would strengthen his deal making image it appears I was wrong. He remained focused on domestic American politics and it turned out not to be the politics of 2018 but the election campaign of 2016.
So, I rate myself at fifty/fifty, with that sort of record I’m off to Vegas.