FILE PHOTO: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin talks to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
For U.S. President Donald Trump, a summit with Vladimir Putin risks a political backlash at home and abroad. For the Russian president, however, the fact the summit is even happening is already a big geopolitical win.
Despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies, the Kremlin has long been trying to arrange a summit, betting that Putin and Trump will get on well and stop a sharp downward spiral in bilateral ties.
While nobody on either side expects big breakthroughs, including on U.S. sanctions, the summit is seen by Moscow as U.S. recognition of Russia’s status as a great power and an overdue U.S. realization that its interests must be taken into account.
It communicates that the “President of the United States is treating us with the respect that we deserve,” said David Szakonyi, a professor of political science at George Washington University.
“Even if no other type of agreements come out of it…just that handshake and that smile and that respect gives him (Putin) huge dividends, huge benefits for the many audiences that he plays to,” Szakonyi said.
Western grievances over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad haven’t gone away. Other accusations, denied by Moscow, include that it meddled in U.S. and European politics, supplied the weapon that shot down a passenger plane in 2014 over Ukraine and tried to kill a former Russian spy in Britain with a nerve agent.
Expectations are high in Russia that Putin, with more than 18 years of global experience, will have the edge on Trump, who had not held elected office before he was inaugurated last year. The two men have met twice before at other events and spoken by phone at least eight times. -Reuters