In what is sure to stir up a media storm of over analysis, the Kremlin has commented that there is a strong possibility that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet on the sidelines of the upcoming international summit in Vietnam.
“Both Putin and Trump have extensive plans for bilateral meetings, which have been agreed upon long beforehand. There is also the APEC summit program, so the relevant offices are trying to choose an appropriate timing and format,” he said, adding that the likeliness of a Trump-Putin meeting was high.
As Strategic Culture Foundation's Andrei Akulov notes, President Donald Trump told Fox News last week that he may meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said it was very important to meet the Russian leader. The US president expressed hope that Russia would help solve the North Korea problem. "It's hard to overestimate the importance and significance for all international matters of any contact between the presidents of Russia and the United States," said Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Donald Trump's trip comes at a time the Asia-Pacific policy goals require clarification against the background of the US withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. President Trump is pushing bilateral trade deals to replace the TPP, but Asian countries are reluctant to open negotiations, while South Korea is balking at his demand to renegotiate the existing trade accord. The relations with China and the problem of North Korea top the agenda. In Vietnam, the US president will articulate a new policy for Asia built on the concept of a “free and open Indo-Pacific” region. The idea presupposes bringing together Japan, Australia, and India to contain a rising China.
Putin and Trump first met at the G20 summit in Hamburg in July when they discussed allegations of Russian meddling in the US presidential election. Back then, the leaders agreed to focus on better ties. However, the relations have soured further since that time as the diplomatic scandal broke out. In August, the president signed new sanctions against Russia. During the election campaign, Donald Trump pitched himself as a leader who would normalize the relationship. The American voters backed this stance. But the promised improvement has not materialized.
Today, the relations between Russia and the US are on a downward spiral of sanctions and accusations. It’s true that the Russian-American relations are struggling through their most difficult period since the end of the ?old War. The domestic context makes it virtually impossible for the US president to attempt any kind of fundamental reset.
No breakthroughs are expected but there is a range of burning issues to be urgently addressed despite the divisions. What the leaders could do is implement a "ceasefire" on the diplomatic blows of the past few months. The hole is deep enough; it’s time to stop digging.
With Syrian conflict entering endgame and de-escalation zones in place, Russia and the US face responsibility for ending the conflict and launching the nation-building process. Syria should not divide but rather unite the two powers. Ukraine and North Korea will be included in the agenda. It’s also logical and imperative for Russia and the US to pursue cooperation on Libya and Afghanistan.
With arms control eroding, the time is right to launch discussions on the future of New START and the divisions over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) Treaty. Moscow has declared readiness to negotiate an extension of the New START, but the US position remains unclear. If nothing replaces the New START, there will be a new situation when strategic offensive forces are beyond any control for the first time since SALT-I was signed in 1972. The fate of the INF Treaty is uncertain with both sides accusing each other of violating the agreement. It would be right if the presidents gave orders to launch meaningful discussions to smooth away the existing problems.
A lot of issues of mutual concern could be addressed if the US reversed its decision to shut down most channels of cooperation including the Presidential Commission (21 working groups). Regional security and arms control will probably dominate the official bilateral agenda but strong interaction between academics, media, businesses and public diplomacy could help manage existing problems and make the relationship much more fluid.
Much has been said about what causes the current deterioration, while almost nothing is said in the mainstream media about the fact that the dialogue is still alive despite all the snags on the way. Contacts are maintained.
This was in focus of the talks held in Helsinki between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon on September 11-12. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, has maintained dialogue with Russia over the conflict in Syria, and raised the possibility of joint stability operations, including de-escalation zones and ceasefire observers. In June, numerous US companies took active part in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).
The divisions were deep when the “Helsinki process” was launched in the 1970s. The Helsinki Final Act dealt with a variety of issues divided into four “baskets.” The same thing can be done today.
It is quite possible to put the differences into a basket to be addressed separately, while concentrating on achieving progress in the areas where it can be done. The fact that the initiative to arrange a meeting comes from the US proves the fact that Russia is an important world actor that no international security problems can be solved without. The APEC summit in Vietnam provides an opportunity to revive dialogue on the issues of common interest. It should not be missed at a time when the bilateral relationship has tumbled to a nadir.