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”.

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/17/politics/president-trump-vladimir-putin-summit-history/index.html

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.

UPDATE:

It appears that Trump and Putin did discuss areas of mutual security arrangements, Syria and nuclear weapons. Well at least that is what we are hearing from the Russians:
“Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday – The Russian military “is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security,” Konashenkov said.”

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/17/politics/trump-putin-russia-claim-military-agreements/index.html

Apparently the Russians have a full record of what was discussed in those agreements, whether or not the US does is an open question at present. Press inquiries to the NSC are meeting with no response.

Objectively it appears that Russia is once again demonstrating extreme skill in political warfare, raising questions within the American government about its own foreign policy and the issue of secret agreements not being shared by the American president. Combined with the President’s interview yesterday about a question in regards to actually honoring the core premise in the NATO mutual military assistance pact, this obviously further undermines confidence among America’s traditional allies. In terms of “creating chaos” it would be difficult to imagine better tactics. I should note that I detest Putin, but as a tactician he is proving amazingly successful.

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9 responses »

  1. larryjoe2 says:

    It appears that Trump and Putin did discuss areas of mutual security arrangements, Syria and nuclear weapons. Well at least that is what we are hearing from the Russians:
    “Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Russian military spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday – The Russian military “is ready to intensify contacts with the US colleagues in the General Staff and other available channels to discuss the extension of the START treaty, cooperation in Syria, as well as other issues of ensuring military security,” Konashenkov said.”

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/17/politics/trump-putin-russia-claim-military-agreements/index.html

    Apparently the Russians have a full record of what was discussed in those agreements, whether or not the US does is an open question at present. Press inquiries to the NSC are meeting with no response.

    Objectively it appears that Russia is once again demonstrating extreme skill in political warfare, raising questions within the American government about its own foreign policy and the issue of secret agreements not being shared by the American president. Combined with the President’s interview yesterday about a question in regards to actually honoring the core premise in the NATO mutual military assistance pact, this obviously further undermines confidence among America’s traditional allies. In terms of “creating chaos” it would be difficult to imagine better tactics. I should note that I detest Putin, but as a tactician he is proving amazingly successful.

  2. Chloe Louise says:

    Do you think the Helsinki officials already had the room wired and in turn they would give the information to us or to our British cousins who would in turn give it to us. Do you not think our translator was already handpicked by the CIA? When James Clapper goes on CNN with his comments of alarm is he not trying to warn our citizens and the world about what is possibly going on and the fears of the intelligence community. frank Sesno said before they could impeach Nixon they had to basically let the country know what was going on in order to prevent public outcry. Keep in mind I am getting all of these ideas from my news shows and John LeCarre–what do you think?

    • larryjoe2 says:

      I very much doubt that the government of Finland would wire the room, for one thing their relationship with Russia itself is always a concern to them and either nation could have demanded their security folks check the room with a full security sweep. That means that either President would have to carry a recorder themselves or have their interpreter do so.

      Its hard for me to believe Putin would not demand a record (even if classified) and normally the US President would do so as well. Considering Trump’s apparent lack of preparation for the meeting and his relationship with the CIA and the over all American intel community I honestly don’t know the he or his translator were wired for recording. At this stage of the game I can’t see that the CIA or anyone else has much control over the situation.

      What we do know is that Justice fully briefed Trump on the charges against the Russian GRU officers, he approved the release of that information before the meeting and neither referred to it nor made an issue out of it with Putin. If he passed on something as significant as that I can imagine he would pass on demanding a record of the personal dialog.

      Whatever record does or does exist of the meeting, all we can see at this point is that Russia appears to have a full grasp of certain agreements that were reached and their military has announced they are prepared to pursue them at a detailed level while the American public has yet to be given any information relating to the matter. The other thing we know is that Trump himself does not have the personal knowledge or history with issues such as nuclear weaponry and disarmament to deal with such subjects personally – which would have been true for most American presidents other than perhaps JFK, Carter and Bush I; Reagan and Bush both got deeply involved in such discussions, but never without staff present.

    • larryjoe2 says:

      Both very good articles and very much in line with my earlier comment about security discussions well underway in respect to Syria. To reduce this to “the art of the deal”, the deal in progress is in terms of spheres of influence. Putin needs to include Syria within a new Russian sphere of influence for a number of reasons,one being that it pivots Russian influence towards towards both the Mediterranean and North Africa – in essence bypassing the thorny issue of Turkish territory in terms of allowing Russia access to the Med (a strategic goal since the days of the Russian empire).

      And as a major global oil producer, Russia is likely somewhat receptive to the Trump push against Iran. Doubts about Iranian oil keep prices up and benefit both Russia and Saudi and Trump is very much oriented towards Saudi Arabia.

      My guess is that there will be security agreements which will minimize Iranian influence in Iran, isolate Iranian support for attacks against Israel and blunt Iranian influence. Russia might even demonstrate some support for blunting Iranian nuclear development, all in the name of global security. Trump will not mind leaving Assad in power, and its hard to push back against reducing the internal suffering now going on in Syria.

      The Deal – The US and Russia with benefits to Israel, Egypt and Saudi

      The losers – Turkey and Iran – and the final nail in the coffin of the Arab Spring…

      But as we say locally, that’s just “spitballing”…

      • larryjoe2 says:

        Just one more point add on to my posts on this subject. As I had observed, its really not in Putin’s particular interest to voluntarily cede any ground in nuclear disarmament – for two reasons. First Russia has clearly violated certain aspects of the existing treaty and new talks would raise those issues. Second, by merely showcasing and promoting new strategic weapons systems he spurs western military spending, on a huge scale for the US.

        Both of which explain to some extent why he would follow a supposedly positive meeting with an American president with new claims and demonstrations of strategic nuclear weapons – as illustrated in the articles below:

        https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/20/europe/russia-new-weapons-videos-intl/index.html

        http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/22270/russia-releases-videos-offering-an-unprecedented-look-at-its-six-new-super-weapons

        However if he can lay the groundwork for nuclear arms reduction to be an American initiative – well it would certainly put him in a strong position for negotiations which could ultimately mean he does not have to spend huge sums on making his super weapons actually operational.

  3. Anthony M says:

    All very interesting.

    We seem to be in good company in looking at all of this with a degree of concern.

    https://www.project-syndicate.org/bigpicture/our-kind-of-traitor

    Still, in every crisis there is opportunity. I can but hope that all this gives both Europe and the UK the proverbial kick up the backside.

    Not hugely optimistic of that on recent form though.

  4. Anthony M says:

    Hi

    There seems to be intense Russian diplomatic activity in the Middle East after Helsinki. This isn’t getting much if any coverage here in the UK and I’ve not seen any statements or overt activity by the USA reported in the UK media or Politico etc. on it either, although we can safely assume the US is in the loop via Israel and presumably still the Kurds, if not directly from the Kremlin to the White House.

    Could I ask if this getting any attention in the USA? It sounds like Russia has been given a green light to try to put in place its preferred solution in Syria, as expected.

    This is an example of recent activity:

    https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2018/07/israel-nix-russia-deal-iran-backed-forces-syria.html

    We could potentially (if Putin can reconcile Turkish, Syrian, Israeli and Iranian concerns which is quite a big if, but the outlines of his approach are coming into view) end up with a Russian sphere of influence stretching from Iran to the Lebanon (Gulf to the Mediterranean) and from Turkey (the Bospherous) to the borders of Israel (or perhaps even to some extent into Israel given how cosy they are).

    Why this is supposed to be America’s interests is a bit more puzzling in my simple view on life, although it seems to fit the concept we have been discussing of a grand bargain between the USA and Russia aimed at China and to a lesser extent Europe.

    If Putin can pull this off it would be a coup that would have made the Czars of the ‘Great Game’ era green with envy.

    We do of course end up with two armed camps in the Middle East which might have interesting repercussions…but I’ll wait and watch for a few more indicators to go red or green before allowing that line of thought to go any further.

    • larryjoe2 says:

      First off, no its not getting media attention – nor are the new US direct discussions with the Taliban.

      An easy answer as to why is that there simply is no American foreign policy at present, in its place we have a limited number of very personal relationships between Trump and people he either admires or sees as politically useful. That short list includes Putin and the Saudi leadership, possibly a couple of other Gulf regimes, North Korea and Israel. Given that our State Department has been gutted and that there is no real policy making outside of Trump himself, the rest of the world only exist as part of his trade agenda. It also appears that Russia and Russian trade is important to a number of Congressional Republicans, exactly why is still unclear?

      Beyond that I think there is something far deeper in regard to the lack of American strategic interest in who is the power broker in the Middle East and that is simply that the United States has invested three decades of massive amounts of money, eroded its military substantially and taken thousands of casualties to no real effect. And with its own oil and gas reserves plus a growing wind energy system, access to Gulf oil is not the factor it once was. Potentially painful at the pump on occasion but the strategic threat it was a few decades ago…no. My take is that most Americans are more than willing to leave the entire region to its own devices as long as there are regional states capable of forestalling any future ISIS equivalent. If Russia wants to add the military clout to assist them…fine. A new era of Russian middle eastern hegemony may please Putin but of course economically the Gulf is a competitor rather than a market for Russian energy.

      Personally I hold a similar attitude myself, if America did have a foreign relations strategy I would target it towards SE Asia, Africa and South America. The Chinese brighter than I are, certainly brighter than Trump and inclined to pursue long term strategies (as compared to Putin who is an imminently able tactician) are moving in those directions and I would much prefer to compete with them than to wrestle with Putin over Syria, Afghanistan or Iran.

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