U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met for the first time in a year, this time in Helsinki, Finland, marking a major occasion for the leaders of the two world powers to discuss issues of mutual concern. The event, however, lacked any sort of concrete outcome that the international community could praise.
Despite the disappointment, some good news did emerge from the meeting as the leaders decided to improve the bilateral relationship, which is said to have deteriorated to the worst level since the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s. They also agreed to continue discussions on a new nuclear disarmament treaty.
One has to wonder, however, if sufficient "constructive discussions" were held on important issues such as the civil war in Syria, the North Korean nuclear issue and Washington's departure from the Iran nuclear deal. Our answer is a definite no.
Trump and Putin spent much of their time together discussing the alleged intervention by Moscow into the U.S. presidential election in 2016, in which Trump was elected the leader of the United States.
In a joint press conference after their meeting, President Putin understandably denied his country's involvement, while President Trump called the U.S. investigation into the matter a "witch hunt," even saying that Washington has been "foolish" to keep giving the cold shoulder to the Kremlin. These remarks sounded unbecoming of the president of the United States.
It was only last week that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers. It is anyone's guess if the Mueller investigation will reach as far as Trump, but Russia's interference in the American election is now difficult to deny.
Even members of the Republican Party, who are supposed to back their affiliated president, are criticizing Trump's remarks, saying that the U.S. president is placing more importance on Russian views than the own investigation by the United States. This is a very understandable reaction indeed.
Meanwhile, relations between the United States and European countries are in a cold war state over their differences on trade issues and defense spending. During his latest visit to Brussels earlier this month just before his meeting with Putin, Trump emphasized the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations, and stopped short of hitting Moscow hard on its behavior including the forcible annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine. This attitude must have made European allies of the United States nervous.
In the face of upcoming U.S. midterm elections in November, Trump probably wanted to score another diplomatic point -- after his "rapprochement" with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at their June 12 summit -- by turning the meeting with Putin into an occasion to deny Russian interference. Doing so would satisfy Putin, too.
However, voters are not blind to opportunistic diplomacy or overly staged "reconciliation," and may lose trust in the leader. Trump should change his heavy-handed approach and promote diplomacy and politics in which allied countries can have confidence.