The Trump – Putin Press conference in Helsinki on July 17, 2018 – held on the day of 4th anniversary of shooting down by Russian forces of MH17 over Ukraine can be analysed through several prisms.
The prism of:
- the United States
- the allies within the free world
All three may have a different perspective; however, there are some very common themes and concerns with President Trump’s meek performance.
On all three fronts, no doubt the verdict is out on President Trump’s performance and positioning; the terms used: unacceptable, a sell out and a win for Putin.
From a United States position it was a sell-out’, a laundering of US dirty linen on the international stage, and a lack of support for US authorities.
The President of the USA is a custodian, not an owner of the nation. No doubt there would be few in the United States who would agree that he represented them or their view in the conference.
Knowing very well how Russian intelligence security systems operate, to have Trump issue an invitation for them to participate in any election interference investigation by Russia is totally ludicrous.
From a Free World position, the show of support by Trump for Putin could only be perceived as reinforcing Putin’s resolve to continue on his path of not adhering to international principles, abuse and conventions.
This was an opportunity to send a strong message to Russia: Yes, we want peace, yes, we want cooperation; however these can only happen if Russia commits to the international standards values and principles by which the free world operates. This opportunity was not only missed; it no doubt strengthened Russia’s resolve not to have to change.
From, a Ukraine position – There were several opportunities to raise the Ukrainian situation which would have sent two message the International community has agreed on:
- Leave Ukrainian soil and return Crimea to Ukraine
- Respect Sovereignty
Whilst Trump has stated Crimea is Ukraine, the event was a perfect opportunity to show Putin, Ukraine and the Free World that ‘international conventions must be respected if there is to be progress’.
The Press Conference was held on the day of 4th Anniversary of MH17. The international courts have ruled and have found Russia guilty – Putin continues to deny and misrepresents the situation. He refuses to take blame. Here was an opportunity to state that Russia stands accused and must comply with international rulings and take responsibility rather than continue to deny.
On all fronts Trump showed weakness, lack of resolve and most importantly leadership.
From a Ukraine perspective Trump’s performance cannot be taken in isolation when discussing US-Ukraine relations.
The US provides Ukraine diplomatic, humanitarian, and defence support. This indicates that the US has been ready to assist Ukraine in fighting Russian aggression on Ukrainian territory. President Trump in other fora has indicated that the US expects Russia to cease military activity on Ukrainian soil and that Crimea must be returned to Ukraine
The US has
- provided Ukraine with lethal weaponry,
- provided support for Ukraine’s armed forces.
- assisted and continues to assist in reforming Ukraine’s Defence and Security sectors
- increased its sanctions against Russia, against Russian companies
- Opposes the North Stream II project
- is fighting Russian propaganda
And the list goes on.
President Trump had the opportunity on the international stage to talk the walk – to present US support for Ukraine and to express that Russia’s behaviour is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.
Rather than raising the issue of the delivery of the World Cup by Russia during the press conference, the time could have been used to raise the issues of incarceration of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, the violation of human rights in Russia.
This would have sent Putin and Russia a strong message ‘The world is watching’
A powerful message to Putin would have been that cooperation can only be done within a framework of Russia and Putin complying with, not interfering in, political voting processes and respecting territorial sovereignty and removal of Russian armed forces from Ukraine.
An opportunity missed. Instead the ‘Me & I – US politics were being played out on the world stage.
Whilst some are arguing that it was not one of Trump’s best performances, it should be said it was in a sense a defining moment where the US President succumbed, showed weakness and gave Putin an upper hand.
This can be mended – by the President qualifying aspects of US foreign policy making statements to the effect:
What I stated was in good faith and in hope of resolving international issues and building stronger relationships between our two countries.
However, it should be understood by President Putin that all this is predicated upon Russia playing by international rules, conventions and accords, returning Crimea to Ukraine, owning up to the shooting down of MH 17 and removing Russian troops from Ukrainian soil
No doubt the US Government, US citizens, the allies, global citizens will develop their own list of issues that should be added to the list above and acted on before this false sense of security can be translated in true cooperation and the formation of new alliances and international peace building.