Russian media hails Trump summit as a win for Putin

Moscow establishment claims the Helsinki meeting broke down the West’s resolve

Speaking after a one-on-one meeting in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump contradicted US intelligence agencies and said he saw no reason to believe Russia had hacked the 2016 presidential election to help him win. Video: Reuters

 

Russia’s political and media establishment heralded talks between the Russian and US leaders in Helsinki as a victory for Vladimir Putin in breaking down western resolve to treat Russia as a pariah.

“The West’s attempts to isolate Russia failed,” read the headline on a report on Monday’s summit meeting in state-run newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

The praise from Russia’s elite for Mr Putin’s performance at the summit contrasted sharply with the reaction in Washington, where US president Donald Trump’s own Republican Party accused him of failing to stand up to Mr Putin.

In Moscow, there was a recognition that the summit did not produce any breakthroughs on issues such as Syria, Ukraine or arms control. The Kremlin, in the run-up to the summit, had played down expectations of major progress.

Instead, the focus was on the symbolism of the leader of the world’s biggest superpower sitting down one-on-one with Mr Putin after four years of international isolation for Russia triggered by its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

“It’s funny to recall the nonsense from Obama et al about Russia being a weak ‘regional power’,” said Alexey Pushkov, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament, referring to former US president Barack Obama.

“The attention of the whole world is focused today on Helsinki and it’s crystal clear to everyone: the fate of the world is being decided between Russia and the United States, the leaders of the two major powers of our planet are meeting,” Mr Pushkov said in a Twitter post on Monday.

‘Better than super’

Asked by reporters in Helsinki how the talks had gone, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Magnificent . . . Better than super.”

The opportunity for Mr Putin to present himself as an equal to the US president was a major objective for the Kremlin as it prepared for the summit, according to people close to the Russian foreign policy establishment.

Mr Putin has based a large part of his domestic appeal – both to ordinary people and the elites – on a narrative about restoring the international heft that Russia lost when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

A post-summit news conference in Helsinki with Mr Trump and Mr Putin was “everything the Kremlin realistically could have hoped for”, said Mark Galeotti, a Russia scholar at the Institute of International Relations Prague.

“Putin gets to look like the urbane grown-up, and presents Russia as peer power to USA,” Mr Galeotti wrote on Twitter.

Russia’s rouble currency was up 0.4 per cent against the dollar in Monday trading. Market analysts said the fact the summit happened was a positive for Russian assets, offsetting the negative effect from a drop in oil prices.

Mercurial

Kremlin officials, speaking in private before the summit, acknowledged that it had been difficult to figure out how best to deal with a US leader who is mercurial and flouts political etiquette.

Putin aides have voiced frustration too that their attempts to repair US-Russia relations were being blocked by Mr Trump’s opponents in the US. Mr Trump’s domestic critics allege his 2016 election campaign colluded with Russia, something both Mr Trump and Russia deny.

US president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin adjust their earpiece plugs during a joint press conference following their summit talks in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Anatoly Maltse/EPA
US president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin adjust their earpiece plugs during a joint press conference following their summit talks in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Anatoly Maltse/EPA

In a new departure, Mr Putin waded directly into that US domestic debate. Standing alongside Mr Trump in Helsinki, Mr Putin said he had evidence that $400 million in unlawfully acquired cash may have been funnelled to the election campaign of Trump’s defeated opponent Hillary Clinton.

“Having been twinned with Donald Trump by the media for a long time, Putin has now clearly decided to cast his lot with him,” said Dmitry Trenin, a former colonel in the Russian army who is now director of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, a think tank.

On the evidence of their news conference in Helsinki, Mr Trenin wrote on Twitter, Mr Putin is “now vocally supporting his US counterpart against his domestic foes”. – Reuters