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George Diepenbrock
KU News Service
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Trump-Putin meeting carries risks, foreign policy scholar says

Thu, 07/06/2017

LAWRENCE — President Donald Trump prepares for his in-person, bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at an interesting and controversial time in the two countries' relationship.

A University of Kansas scholar on Russian foreign policy is available to discuss issues surrounding the meeting scheduled for July 7 at the G-20 summit in Germany.

Mariya Omelicheva, associate professor of political science, researches international relations, security policy, counterterrorism and human rights in Russia and Eurasia. She has authored several articles on Russian politics and foreign policy.

Q: There is no shortage of current issues between the United States and Russia, including Syria, Ukraine and even the investigation here about potential Russian interference in the U.S. election. Given all of that, what is the significance of Trump's meeting with Putin on the side of the G-20 summit? 

Omelicheva: To begin with, it is the first official meeting between Trump and Putin. Many have been awaiting the U.S.-Russia summit, speculating about when and where it would take place. Putin has expressed readiness to meet his American counterpart for some time and even floated an idea of Slovenia, Melania Trump's home country, for the U.S.-Russia talks. Friday's meeting between Trump and Putin was initially thought of as a casual chat on the sidelines of the G-20 summit, but it was changed at the last minute to a formal sit-down, face-to-face bilateral talk. 

The meeting is noteworthy for a variety of reasons. Russia has been placing high stakes on the Trump administration's improved relations with the Russian Federation, including by avoiding moral posturing of Washington toward Moscow, recognizing Russia's own foreign interests and allowing the Kremlin to pursue them. Some of the top issues in U.S. foreign policy are directly linked to Russia and its foreign policy conduct, be it Syria, Iran, NATO, East and Central Europe, Ukraine or North Korea.

Q: Both Putin and Trump have been defiant and critical of the investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. election. Is that important at all? Does that create any risk for either leader politically in how the public and leaders of other countries might perceive the meeting?

Certainly, it does create risks. For a long time, President Trump fervently denied any Russian interference in the U.S. presidential race. Only last month did he finally acknowledge Russia's meddling in the election, and only as a way to impugn the Obama administration with the failure to stop it. President Trump, however, continues to deny any collusion of his presidential campaign with Russia, although the investigation into any collusion and obstruction to such an investigation is still ongoing.

With that in mind, President Trump will be under the microscope during this meeting with Putin. On the one hand, he may be interested in building a rapport with the Russian president and definitely getting some concessions from him to score winning points at home.

It is known, however, that Putin has his own agenda for the talks. Any agreement between Putin and Trump can be interpreted as a show of weakness and a concession, but no agreement would make both presidents look bad. For Trump, in particular, it would appear as he is failing to deliver any progress toward rebuilding a productive relationship with the Kremlin.

Q: What will be the most significant thing to watch for in public remarks about the meeting?

President Trump has become fairly predictable in his unpredictability, for one. I would be more interested to see and watch what President Putin would have to say. The Russian commentators have been saying that Putin would not want to follow the Western script and discuss the issues that Washington has put on the agenda.

Putin will be facing presidential elections in the spring of 2018. Economically, Russia has been struggling with a recession, while pervasive corruption in the government brought to streets angry demonstrators across the country. Putin's high popularity has been hinging on his ability to reinforce the narrative of security and stability but also Russia's recognition by the West.

To arrange an interview with Omelicheva, contact George Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853 or gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.



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