President Trump’s July 16th meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki quickly became a source of significant controversy both at home and throughout NATO. In a shocking reversal of decades of presidential decorum, President Trump took the opportunity to praise the Russian president while admonishing members of NATO. It would perhaps be more shocking if it weren’t so expected.

In the week leading up to the widely anticipated summit, Trump took the opportunity to criticize NATO members Germany and the United Kingdom. At a bilateral breakfast in Brussel’s, Trump levied a remarkable attack on Germany for, ironically, what he perceives as servility to Russian interests stemming from a $12 billion pipeline proposal between Germany and Russia. In addition, Trump criticized Germany, as well as NATO as a whole, for not spending enough money on defence. The latter of these two criticisms is not entirely surprising in itself. Military spending has long been a point of contention between the United States and other NATO nations, as the US far outspends any other member nations on defence. This inequality has led to the perception among Americans of the US being the guardian of Europe, often to the detriment of the American citizen. It should be noted that even Barack Obama criticized other NATO nations for not spending enough on their militaries, albeit somewhat more gracefully. The former allegation, however, comes as a complete surprise given what the public knew, at this point, of the magnitude of Russian interference in the 2016 election. It is even more baffling considering what happened at the Helsinki summit not even a week later.

It would seem that Trump’s visit abroad left something of a trail of agitated US allies, as he also took the opportunity to blast Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit compromise. In an exclusive interview, The Sun reported that Trump warned “any attempts to maintain close ties with the EU would make a lucrative US trade deal very unlikely.” Trump also stated that “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal.” Trump also took the opportunity to blast EU members for allowing in migrants, criticize London Mayor Sadiq Khan for a supposedly weak stance on terrorism, and oddly enough maintain that he would “keep ties with Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin despite the Salisbury Novichok poisonings.” Delivered in typically blunt Trump fashion, the remarks prompted some shock and outrage in the UK. Trump’s visit was met with thousands of protestors, who likely would have shown regardless of his comments, as the president is unsurprisingly unpopular abroad.

These two incidents in particular would suggest that President Trump is, perhaps deliberately, driving a wedge between NATO nations. This of course puts Russia in an advantageous position, but, is this what Trump wants?

President Trump and Russian President Putin met in a two hour, closed door meeting on July 16th. The press conference following the meeting has been commonly referred to in the media as the Helsinki Summit. You can find the official White House transcript of the summit here.  At this summit, Trump took the opportunity to openly rebuke the US intelligence community, declining to endorse the US government’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 Election. Trump instead supported Vladimir Putin’s denial of the allegations. Trump stated that “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

When asked if he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election, President Putin said “Yes I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.” Of the allegations that he has collected compromising information on President Trump, Putin stated “I heard these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow… When President Trump was at Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he in Moscow. … I treat President Trump with utmost respect. But back then, when he was a private individual – a businessman – nobody informed me that he was in Moscow… It’s difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this. Please just disregard these issue and don’t think about this anymore again.” “Russia has never interfered in and is not going to interfere in US internal affairs, including the elections,” Putin stated. “If there are any specific materials, if they are presented, we are ready to review them together.” Trump called the election interference probe “a disaster for our country.” He later backpedalled on his criticisms reading from a prepared script that he has “full faith” in US intelligence communities, claiming that he misspoke in Helsinki.

Putin’s remarks stand in stark contrast to the findings of the US intelligence community, which has concluded that there is a very high likelihood that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections to the benefit of Donald Trump’s campaign. Trump’s own appointee, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, warned that “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.” Even House Speaker Paul Ryan, who generally sides with the President issued a statement saying that “The President must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is not moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals.”

The summit between Trump and Putin has been billed as an historic one, though perhaps not for great reasons. Never before in US history has a president taken this sort of opportunity to diminish the credibility of American intelligence agencies in the face of a long-standing geo-political adversary. Expectedly, the criticism of Trump’s comments in Helsinki has been widespread. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said “The comments were so egregious they’ve crossed the tripwire, and you see Republicans speaking out in a way you really haven’t before. This was about the country. It cuts to a nerve in the American psyche and the psyche of the Republican party.” Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went on to state that “There’s a possibility that we may well take up legislation related to this.” And, according to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) a bill has been introduced that would potentially label Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism.

The backlash from Trump’s performance in Helsinki, combined with the now mounting Manafort investigation, will only fan the already growing flames of this investigation. In our next entry, we will cover the most significant developments in the trial of Paul Manafort, which is now underway and already producing interesting results.

This Russia Blog Post was submitted by USRESIT NEWS Analyst Thomas Wesley: Contact

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