Spin cycle: How Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin's G20 accounts differ

Washington: As much as they complain about so-called fake news, both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are known dabblers in that dark art. So whatever either of the leaders, and their armies of spin doctors, say about their Friday encounter in Hamburg should be taken with a grain of salt.

That their scheduled 45-minute meeting stretched to more than two hours, with Melania Trump being sent in at one stage to break the bromance, was instructive on their capacity to engage.

Cattle farming in Indonesia


G20: Trump, Putin differ on North Korea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says the United States and Russia have differing views on how to deal with North Korea, but that Washington will continue to press Moscow to do more.

Although they agreed to a partial ceasefire in a part of Syria, they were unable to close deals on economic sanctions imposed on Moscow over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea; on the return of Moscow’s two diplomatic compounds near Washington, which were shuttered by the Obama administration as punishment for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 US election; and on the North Korea crisis.

Meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit at which Trump finds himself isolated on issues ranging from the Paris Agreement on climate change to trade, the election meddling became the prism through which their encounter was judged.

If Trump did “press” Putin in “a very robust and lengthy exchange” on the issue, as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed while briefing American reporters after the meeting, it would have been a marked departure from Trump’s longstanding skepticism and disinterest in “the Russia thing” – save for his wanting to shut down investigations into the interference.

Just weeks earlier, the US President chortled with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during an Oval Office meeting, ridiculing former FBI chief James Comey as “crazy, a real nut job” and explaining to the Russian envoy how his sacking 24hrs earlier of Comey, who led the continuing investigation of the Russia inquiry, had taken “great pressure” off him.

And the day before he sat down with Putin, Trump had hung the combined US intelligence agencies out to dry, by publicly dissing their conclusion that Moscow indeed had meddled in the election – and that its objective had been to help Trump win.

Instead, in a speech in Warsaw, Trump equivocated: “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries. I won’t be specific. I think a lot of people interfere. I think it’s been happening for a long time.”

Briefing Russian reporters after the Hamburg meeting, Lavrov claimed that Trump had seemingly accepted Putin’s denials on the election meddling.

“The US President said that he heard clear statements from President Putin about this being untrue and that he accepted these statements,” Lavrov said.

He even quoted Trump, who he said talked about how people in the US were “exaggerating” accounts of the meddling. Lavrov added: “President Trump said that this campaign [against Russia in the US] has already acquired a rather strange character, because for many months these accusations have sounded, but not a single fact has been produced.”

Tillerson was silent on whether Trump had accepted the Putin denial. Instead, he briefed that in the face of the Putin denial, Trump had decided to move on, and that the two had agreed to further talks “regarding commitments of non-interference in the affairs of the US and our democratic process”.

And by Tillerson’s account, to the extent that Trump pushed back, it was more against the US Congress than against Putin. Trump, according to Tillerson, had informed Putin that some in Congress wanted to punish Moscow with more severe sanctions, “but the two presidents, I think, rightly focused on how do we move forward”.

Describing the Russian denial as an “intractable disagreement,” Tillerson seemed to brush aside the FBI and myriad congressional probes of the election meddling and possibly collusion with Moscow by Trump’s campaign, telling reporters: “There was not a lot of relitigating things from the past.”

Relitigating the past is precisely what all those American investigations are doing, in the wake of meddling that many in Washington see as an act of war against the US by Moscow.

Putin went to Hamburg with Russian analysts claiming he had won the encounter even before it had taken place, because no agreement would reveal Trump to be a hostage of US domestic politics; and because by merely sitting down with him, Trump was acknowledging Moscow’s claim that it’s a genuine world power that is entitled to a voice in global affairs.

Moscow analysts were chuffed that the meeting had consisted of just the two presidents, their foreign affairs ministers and their respective translators. But the administration spin was that this had been at Trump’s insistence – to minimise the chance of leaks, which was a remarkable insult to US Defence Secretary James Mattis and Trump’s Russia adviser Fiona Hill who, ordinarily, might have expected to attend.

The agreement to work more closely in Syria is a meager reward for Trump. Most Syrian ceasefires wither on the vine and even Tillerson had his doubts – “we’ll see what happens,” he told the reporters.

And on all the big-ticket items on the G20 agenda, Trump seemingly is in a minority of one.

The summit host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was making no effort to paper over the differences. “[While] compromise can only be found if we accommodate each other’s views, we can also say, we differ,” she said.

Referring to Trump’s rejection of the Paris Agreement and the traditional summit communique, on which summit diplomats were working overnight on Friday, Merkel added: “It will be very interesting to see how we formulate the communique tomorrow and make clear that, of course, there are different opinions in this area because the US regrettably [wants to withdraw].”

And Trump will depart the German port city with warnings of a trade war ringing in his ears, as the Europeans go to the barricades on an imminent decision by Washington to impose new tariffs on steel imports into the US.

“We will respond with counter-measures if need be, hoping that this is not actually necessary,” European Council President Jean-Claude Juncker said. “We are prepared to take up arms if need be.

“I don’t want to tell you in detail what we’re doing,” Juncker said. “But what I would like to tell you is that within a few days – we won’t need two months for that – we could react with counter-measures.”

Source link

Related posts