Trump and Putin: What Comes Next?

U.S. president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin talk before a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters

Will a future, formal Trump-Putin summit be a game changer?

But then we have Trump’s comments to the press following the Da Nang summit. Much of that coverage has focused on Trump’s willingness to accept Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election at face value, but two other items deserve greater attention. The first is that the president, having been convinced, guided, or maneuvered into not having a formal sit-down with Putin in Vietnam, is apparently committing to a full-fledged summit meeting of the two presidents and their respective “teams” at some indefinite point in the future. If so, then how the agenda for that meeting is set, and what parameters are established for the negotiations, will be critical. The second is what role Trump himself intends to play in Russia policy. What struck me at times about his comments on Air Force One was how he seemed to view himself, as “the president,” as something separate and distinct from the executive branch as a whole. As chief executive, Trump is in charge of the U.S. intelligence community, the diplomatic corps and the military. Yet his comments seem to suggest that, at times, the government is pursuing a policy towards Russia that he personally disagrees with but somehow has little power to change.

So while we’ve gotten a first set of answers, the questions still remain unresolved. Sideline encounters at the G-20 and at APEC were not successful in changing the dynamic of the U.S.-Russia relationship. So will a direct Trump-Putin summit be a game changer? Only if those original questions can be answered definitively.

Nikolas K. Gvosdev is the Captain Jerome E. Levy chair of economic geography and national security at the Naval War College. He is also a contributing editor to the National Interest. The views expressed here are his own.

Image: U.S. president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin talk before a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters

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