This series of posts has been longer than anticipated and there will likely be one more, rife with my personal speculation, in a few days. To set the context for that it’s important to fully appreciate the agendas of both Putin and Trump in the upcoming summit.
First, it’s important to note that Putin wants good relations with the U.S. He views the U.S, China and Russia the fundamental global super powers, the political forces that should control the security and resources of the planet. It’s even possible he would prefer stronger US / Russian relations as a balance against the Chinese – who are in direct territorial contact with the Russian Federation across all its eastern borders and who are themselves busily working to control SW Asian and African resources that the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union viewed as under their hegemony.
Second, Putin personally hates NATO and the EU and would do anything in his power to weaken those alliances with the United States, as well as to ensure that Russian energy influence over Europe is maintained. Along with those aspects of his agenda he is highly motivated to preserve Russian influence within OPEC and maintain Russian oil revenues – the key to the Russian economy and to finance his military developments (as well as Russian economic development of the Arctic; which he understands is critical to Russia given climate change – which he most certainly does recognize).
In short he would actually like a strong U.S. / Russian partnership – if it is on those terms. To do so he is perfectly happy to court American business interests as well as its political right wing, and interestingly enough there appears a great desire to work with Russia within both those sectors. In other words, Putin has a very solid sense of where to target Russian political appeal towards America.
In listing his summit priorities I would project they would focus on reinforcing Trump’s own disdain and mistrust for traditional American alliances and agreements. In essence Trump’s America First political agenda is quite literally the same as Putin’s so anything Putin can do to reinforce that in regard to the EU, to BREXIT, to the WTO and most importantly towards NATO will be points Putin’s personal persuasion.
As to Trump’s agenda, he would very much like good relations with Russia for a number of reasons, most of all because he is personally obsessed with maintaining that Russian “meddling” had nothing to do with his winning the 2016 election and imposing his own political will in terms of his campaign statements in regard to doing business with Russia. This is a very personal issue of legitimacy and will to him – whereas Putin is driven largely by strategic national issues, Trump is in a very different and much more personal space in the talks.
Trump faces a hugely escalating budget deficit, a potential cliff in economic growth as a result of his tariff policies and a dramatically escalating military budget. I speculated in Shadow Warfare, some four years ago now, that Putin was using the Reagan Star Wars gambit of baiting the U.S. with new weapons systems and deployments – potentially forcing the U.S. to commit to a new wave of military spending it could not afford. The downside risk was the price of oil and Russian oil revenues.
Up until the election of 2016 things were looking increasingly as if Putin was indeed playing the Star Wars card effectively, forcing a huge increase in American spending – but that the falling price of oil had made the operational deployment of such weapons questionable. However the new 2017/2018 Trump accords with Saudi Arabia, his ongoing political warfare with Iran and pending American economic sanctions against Iran’s trading partners things have dramatically changed. Those America moves have now destabilized the world oil market to the extent that Russia is in an increasingly better position to at least sustain Putin’s projects. At this point Russia is most definitely the economic winner in terms of the new American/Saudi alliance against Iran.
American economic/budget exposure puts Trump in a position to be amenable to Putin proposals which would limit new weapons development, potentially point towards a new era of nuclear disarmament negotiations, and set the stage for deals which allow reduction or even the pulling out of American forces from Syria, potentially out of Korea and even out of Europe – blunting the resurgence of NATO and American support for the Ukraine as well as other Eastern European nations where Putin very much wants to weaken confidence in Western support and reassert Russian political control.
I’ll get down to more specific speculation on deals in my final pre-summit post, but my view of the overall summit context is that Putin will be suggesting deals to Trump that Trump will be very much driven by his own personal agenda and his America First political promises to accept.