It’s probably foolish for me to speculate about the Trump/Putin summit, historically even what appear to be highly organized and extensively prepared meetings between world leaders can take on a life of their own. For example a series of meetings between President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev began with an effort to simply reduce fears of nuclear war and moved to the point at with Reagan himself appeared to accept the thought of total nuclear disarmament – something which both shocked and appalled most of his high level advisors.
It appears that those same advisors were totally ignorant of the fact that only a short time before, Soviet fears of a preemptive western decapitation strike had escalated to the point where the Russian leadership was itself seriously considering its own senior military staff requests for a nuclear first strike on the United States (if that is news to you then you have not read Surprise Attack). It’s certainly not unknown to find senior staff scrabbling in trying to keep up with remarks and press statements following personal meetings between world leaders.
In regard to the Trump/Putin summit, the most recent statement from President Trump is that it will be an “easy summit” and I suspect that is quite true; there is little doubt that there is less discord between he and Putin than between he and EU and NATO leaders. Most recently he has even remarked that if NATO steps up its spending it is still a problem since that won’t necessarily help the American trade balance with Europe. Certainly the meeting with Putin does not appear to be the traditional East/West meeting but purely a meeting in regard to mutual U.S. and Russian Federation interests.
It will also be made easier due to the fact that Putin has already accomplished most of his tactical goals in terms of fragmenting both the EU and NATO and is well underway towards significantly improving Russian political/military influence over much of Eastern Europe as well as the Middle East. The success of nationalist party success across Europe has also opened new venues for increased Russian influence, with Italy only being the most being the most visible example. Of course just to make sure Europe doesn’t forget Russia is in the room:
Given his success, I suspect Putin will take a very soft line, including pushing for mutual security accords to address the fighting in Syria. Russian success there has now left Russia in control of much of the southern border with Jordon and that is exactly the sort of value add that Putin would like to showcase in terms of Russian military support. He may even offer something similar in regard to the Ukraine, a security agreement which would leave the breakaway territories in place as well as the occupation of Crimea. Reduce the fighting, provide some relief to the migration of refuges – trade stability for geopolitical influence.
It’s hard to see Trump not accepting such proposals and the issue of sanctions may not even be raised, with the increase in oil prices due to the American moves again Iran, Russian revenues are bouncing back. With a pending trade war in Europe and Asia, Putin can profit by simply setting on the sidelines.
Beyond that it’s not impossible to see talk of something more spectacular, something like a joint agreement in space exploration or even a joint lunar mission. Russia would benefit in a number of ways from such an agreement and it’s one of the few areas of joint Russian/American cooperation that would be solid ground for moving forward.
Beyond that, Putin will register his concerns about NATO and probably repeat the Russian opposition to the American anti-missile systems in Eastern Europe. If he does and Trump agrees, it will be a sure sign to the East that it better rebuild its political links to Moscow (actually putting the systems there was nonsense in the first place and Russia has every reason to question why they are there; they make no strategic sense and are simply an artifact of the ongoing American obsession with Iran).
Their continued existence also illustrates that all presidents can make mistakes but only some know how to clean up after their predecessors without public embarrassment. That particular issue could have been easily resolved with Aegis anti-missile cruisers in the Mediterranean. When JFK took the IRBM’s out of Turkey in the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis, he simply moved a Polaris ICBM sub into the Mediterranean – quietly maintaining and likely improving the American nuclear strike position.
So I’ve talked at some length on Putin’s agenda, what about Trump? Objectively I can only say his goal is to assert his own political power by meeting with Putin in a total rejection of all concerns and issues with Russian political warfare.
I would speculate he would like to be able to come away able to declare “security wins” as he did from the North Korean meeting, as well as some new items of joint Russian/American cooperation. Overall my take is that his agendas are essentially domestic and not global – while Putin’s are just the opposite. Given that, it may indeed be an “easy summit” for both leaders.