Is Trump going to Helsinki without an agenda?
With the sounds of victory trumpets still hanging in the air over the thrilling summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, United States President Donald Trump is preparing for yet another extra-sensational melodrama in the coming day—his pre-election wish is to have a big one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both the White House and the Kremlin have simultaneously announced on the same day the summit between Trump and Putin in Helsinki on July 16.
This will be the first official summit between the two mavericks who have always openly expressed their mutual fondness for each other. It seems the successful Singapore episode has further emboldened Trump to take additional risk of a meeting with Putin at a time when controversy over Russia’s election meddling is still very much alive and whirling in the corridors of the White House.
Yes, his summit with Kim Jong-un was anathema of traditional American foreign policy and generated a lot of hot air and disparagement, but his meeting with Vladimir Putin will potentially be more explosive and cataclysmic for him politically.
Even his now tamed-detractors and supporters among the Republicans will not be able to remain silent.
Interestingly, unlike his meeting with Kim Jong-un, which had a clear cut pre-defined agenda, apparently Trump does not have an agenda at all for his meeting with Putin. Will Putin offer to roll back the Russian interventions in Crimea or Syria? Will Putin offer to abstain from playing with oil prices through his OPEC clout? Will Putin offer to reduce the Russian nukes and intercontinental ballistic missile system at a reasonable and acceptable level? None of this is likely to be part of the agenda at the Trump-Putin summit.
Now, the pricking question is what is going to be the Trump theme for this get-together? Without any tangible positives for the U.S., this meeting will in fact eclipse his recent diplomatic triumph at the Singapore summit and it will also make Putin hero, who has nothing to lose in this episode. Looking at his track record of erratic and nerve-shattering moves in the arena of global politics, Trump is again expected to trust his impulsive and gut-driven methodology.
Trump’s affinity for Putin is an established fact and he does not leave a single chance to express his fondness for Putin, which is still a mystery. Why? Right now, after his triumphant return from Singapore, he is very much over-confident about his signature personalized diplomacy and he thinks he will again score some thrilling points in his encounter with Putin and he will be able to further taunt his predecessors for their religious adhesion to the traditional norms and discipline of American diplomacy.
But it seems he is on the wrong track this time. Without any concrete agenda, he will not be able to fetch a success story from Helsinki to sell at home. On the contrary, Putin has nothing to lose in such a meeting where he has to do nothing more than share a lunch table with Trump and a joint photoshoot while shaking hands. But the question is, what kind of agenda would give Trump the opportunity to beat drums of victory. This is perhaps what Trump and his team should seriously be thinking to carve out right now.