An extraordinary entanglement of strategic and domestic politics and of the personal and the political was on display on Monday at President Donald Trump's summit meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Their encounter was dominated as much by Trump's rejection of charges that he colluded with Russians in winning the 2016 US presidential election as by his claim that he has put their relations on a new and constructive footing.
Their agreement to cooperate on Syria, nuclear non-proliferation in Iran and North Korea and their exchanges on Ukraine and energy supplies to Europe bear out this claim against his domestic critics. Putin should be delighted by the positive role so bestowed on him at this time of major change in the global political order.
His positive response to Putin's proposal that the two states should use a criminal cooperation treaty to pursue the investigation cuts right across domestic critics
Trump's readiness to defend himself against his own intelligence services on the issue of Russian collusion in the 2016 election is astonishing given the charges laid last week against 12 Russian operatives by the FBI team led by Robert Mueller. At their joint press conference, he said repeatedly he won the election fairly and brilliantly.
His positive response to Putin’s proposal that the two states should use a criminal cooperation treaty to pursue the investigation cuts right across domestic critics determined to see him impeached on the issue. Trump is testing his Republican party’s patriotism to the limit in so prioritising his own interests against the US legal process in cooperation with Putin.
Fears that Trump would compromise US and European policy on Ukraine by offering to recognise Russia’s 2014 takeover of Crimea as legitimate did not materialise. The two men agreed to continue a dialogue at the highest level, frankly recognising they have different interests and understandings on the issue.
A similar pragmatism was displayed on Syria, where Trump underlined his determination to protect Israel, defeat Islamic terrorism and collaborate in providing humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees now that the war there is coming to a close. More detailed contact between the US and Russia on containing Iran's power in the Middle East region is possible and likely from this summit.
Coming after Trump last week attacked German reliance on Russian energy, his description of the European Union as a competitive “foe” on trade and his support for Brexit, this entente with Russia’s leader signals a real shift in geopolitical realities.
That was aptly characterised by Donald Tusk, president of the European Council in Beijing on Monday at a meeting with Chinese leaders. He called on Europe, China, the US and Russia to work together to avoid trade wars and "prevent conflict and chaos" when "the architecture of the world is changing before our very eyes". These other powers should now draw Russia into this endeavour against Trump's policies.