With Trump, Shifts on One Issue Won’t Lead to Shifts on Others, Kortunov Warns

File Photo of White House with South Lawn and Fountain

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, July 4, 2018)

Previous American presidents in their dealings with Moscow have typically moved from progress in one area to progress in others, Andrey Kortunov says; but Donald Trump is different: he will treat each “‘deal'” with Moscow separately; and thus any forward movement on Syria won’t make an agreement on Ukraine any easier.

Helsinki is very different from Singapore, and Russia is even more from North Korea, the Moscow foreign policy expert says. But Trump’s manner in dealing with Kim Jong-un strongly suggests how he will deal with Vladimir Putin – and Moscow must be ready to face that fact (russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/po-doroge-v-khelsinki-oglyanutsya-na-singapur/).

Kortunov points out that “it is well known” that Trump likes stronger leaders, “even thoe of whom can in no way be called friends or allies of the US … But namely therefore in dealing with potential opponents, Trump seriously needs a victory or at least the appearance of one.” That was true in Singapore and it will be true in Helsinki.

There are at least two obvious candidates for such “‘a triumph'” as far as Trump is concerned: a commitment by Moscow not to interfere in the upcoming American mid-term elections, something Russia has always denied doing anyway, and an arrangement in Syria tht would allow the US president to pull out American troops.

In his relations with other leaders, “Trump characteristically seeks to distance himself from the methods of his predecessors and in the first instance from the foreign policy of Barack Obama.” That way, he can present to his base anything he achieves as being his alone and not the result of diplomatic work over time.

“That is the approach one should expect during the Helsinki meeting,” Kortunov says. And it has some important consequences for what will happen: Trump will insist on generalities so that he can’t be attacked by his opponents at home and so he can change course after the meeting if he wants to.

As a result, the Russian side should not focus on specifics because Trump isn’t interested in them. He wants a show and a triumph not really a breakthrough. Thus, the most important thing Putin can seek is the creation of a spirit of Helsinki based on friendship with Trump that may lead to progress later.

At the same time, he says, no friendly exchanges will ensure progress either within the frameworks of some vague declarations or on other issues. Indeed, it has become a hallmark of Trump’s approach that no agreement is final and that no agreement on one thing will open the way to agreements on others. There won’t be “positive linkage” of the kind seen in the past.

The fallout from the Singapore meeting highlighted that. On the one hand, Trump’s understanding of what was “agreed” there doesn’t correspond with that of Kim Jong-un; and on the other, any progress on nuclear and missile issues did not lead Trump to lift or try to lift sanctions. They remain very much in place.

Moscow should be ready to expect the same outcome from the Putin-Trump summit. “In any case,” Kortunov argues, “one must be prepared for the possibility that the meeting in the capital of Finland will become not a turning point but only the very beginning of a complex process of restoring relations between Moscow and Washington.”

But Moscow must try to make the most of it because given the domestic situation in the United States and Trump’s own proclivities, he concludes, “the next such change to do will not appear soon.”

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2018/07/with-trump-shifts-on-one-issue-wont.html]