Julia Ioffe on What to Expect from Trump-Putin Summit

15 Jul 2018 | Canada
Julia Ioffe on What to Expect from Trump-Putin Summit

US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will meet in the Finnish capital of Helsinki on Monday for their first one-on-one summit. Analysts believe this meeting will not only determine the course of future of relations between Washington and Moscow but also the issue of global security.

Trump, who last week attended the NATO summit in Brussels before a visit to the United Kingdom, earlier predicted the meeting with Putin will be the ‘easiest’ of his Europe trip.

However, special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers interfering in the 2016 US presidential elections, may now complicate the agenda between the two leaders.

US journalist Julia Ioffe, who covers foreign policy, told Hromadske that the timing “couldn’t have been more perfect.”

“The fact that this came out three days before a meeting with Putin, I think sends a very clear message that, by the way, this guy you're going to meet with is not your friend, he's not fine,” she said.

“The problem of course, is that President Trump was briefed on this, and the contents of the indictment a few days ago … so even earlier than we saw it, and he still decided to keep the meeting with Putin.”

Experts anticipate Crimea, sanctions against Russia and NATO will form part of the agenda for the summit. Ioffe says while it’s unclear what the two leaders plan to discuss, Ukraine had reason to be concerned over Trump’s comments on Crimea.

In June, Reuters reported that when questioned on whether US would recognize Crimea as Russia, Trump replied “we’re going to have to see.”

“In private, we know that Trump has said Crimea is Russian... But then publicly he'll say Crimea was annexed under (President Barack) Obama's watch, it was his disaster, so he clearly has a problem taking a clear position at least publicly,” Ioffe said.

“I think if I were a Ukrainian, I would be worried that Crimea will be signed off to the Russians by the President of the United States.”

Hromadske spoke to Julia Ioffe ahead of the Trump-Putin meeting about what could be expected from the summit.

We have with us Julia Ioffe, American journalist. We will talk with her about the future Putin-Trump meeting, and possible consequences of it. Julia, my first question is, on the 13th of July, we had information about these 12 Russian intelligence officers that interfered with the elections in the US. Has this information influenced the possible agenda of the the Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki?

Well, it seems like the timing couldn't have been more perfect, and it also seems like Robert Muller and his team wanted to send a very clear message, not just to the Russians but to the American people that they know exactly what the Russians did in the 2016 election, how they did it. Again, of course, this is an indictment, this is not judgement, these are allegations that still have to be proven in a court of law. But the fact that this came out three days before a meeting with Putin, I think sends a very clear message that, by the way, this guy you're going to meet with is not your friend, he's not fine. The problem of course, is that President Trump was briefed on this, and the contents of the indictment a few days ago, and he still decided, so even earlier than we saw it, and he still decided to keep the meeting with Putin.

What will this meeting be about? Should EU be worried for this meeting?

Honestly, I don't know what this meeting is going to be about. I don't know why the president wanted this meeting. It's just, honestly, as you can tell, I'm kind of speechless as to why he even wants this meeting. He says that we need to get along with Russia but he can't seem to articulate why we need to get along with Russia. He seems to not understand that in foreign relations, getting along with people is great, but there has also a point to trying to get along with an adversary. You have to want to get something done, and he has not been able to lay out what it is he wants to get done with Vladimir Putin's help. He seems to just like the guy. And that's not even touching the more sinister allegations. The interesting thing is that his administration, the kind of lower level people, his national security council, his department of justice, department of treasury, department of state, have been very tough on Russia. They've given lethal aid to Ukraine, for example, they've sanctioned more and more people in Russia that have been connected to the Kremlin, and it seems to be two completely different administrations in one. So this administration is doing something, and he is kind of on his own planet when it comes to this.

Many journalists and experts, they say that, they predict that the president will speak about Crimea, lifting the sanctions, about NATO issues. What can we expect and really, should the EU or the American citizens, or people in Ukraine, should they be worried about the topics the person is going to talk about?

Well again, we don't actually know what they're going to discuss. This is speculation given on what Russia wants to discuss, because it's not really clear what the US needs Vladimir Putin to do at this point, especially if he's not going to admit that his army, his army intelligence, meddled in our elections. So these are all guesses as to what they're going to discuss. That said, in private, we know that Trump has said Crimea is Russian, forget about it, why do you care so much, why do you deal with the Ukrainians, they're so corrupt, basically things you would hear in Moscow. But then publicly he'll say Crimea was annexed under Obama's watch, it was his disaster, so he clearly has a problem taking a clear position at least publicly. I think if I were a Ukrainian, I would worried that Crimea will be signed off to the Russians by the President of the United States.

Some political observers, they're concerned that the presidents are going to meet alone behind closed doors, face to face. Is it possible in your opinion, in this case, in this situation?

What is possible?

That they're going to meet alone behind closed doors without any witnesses.

Yes. It seems now that that is going to be the case. When they met on the sidelines of the G20, I believe it was a year ago, that's exactly how they met. We didn't know about the meeting, we heard about the meeting from the Russian side, then we figured out there was nobody there to take notes, nobody there to advise the president. The New Yorker had a wonderful article talking to experienced American diplomats, negotiators, who said this feels like an amateur boxer going in to face Muhammad Ali alone.

You were at the recent NATO summit. What would you say about Trump's behaviour and his relations with the partners, especially European partners?

You know I think this is what is so confusing to people. It's that, these countries who have been allies of the United States for decades, he maligns, he insults, he treats very poorly, he constantly berates them, insults them. But countries that have been threatening the United States for years, or who have been like Russia, getting involved in our elections, he says he's a great guy, he's fine. It seems like all the hardest rhetoric is saved for our friends, and all the nicest words are saved for our, let's just say, adversaries. I think that many people, especially in the foreign policy community, people at the NATO summit, there are a lot of Europeans who were trying to put a good face on and say it's okay, we're going to persevere, the Trans-Atlantic relationship will survive. But I think there's this deep consternation of why is he being so mean to us and so nice to Kim Jong Un and so nice to Vladimir Putin.