The last week has prompted speculation with talk in both camps of a meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin. After Putin’s recent reelection, the story is that there was talk of meeting soon to smooth over the tension between the two states after the event diplomat fall out. A date hasn’t yet been set. While it is understandable from Putin’s end why this would be a productive meeting, it is a meeting that would be unadvisable for Trump to take, at least for the near future.
After the apparent poisoning of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter in their home in Salisbury, England on 4 March Russia has experienced a diplomatic offensive the likes of which have not been seen since the Cold War. Relations between Russia and more than twenty other states have decreased, with Russian diplomats being removed in solidarity with the U.K. To date eighteen European Union states have removed Russian diplomats along with the U.S. and Canada. The U.S. has removed 60 Russian diplomats, 48 of whom worked in the Russian Embassy in Washington and 12 of whom worked at the United Nations in New York, along with closing the Russian Consulate in Seattle. After months of claiming that Russia was not as bad as it seemed, this is the most brutal action that Trump has taken against Putin and his government. It also goes to show how poor Putin’s current standing in the international community is.
Domestically, despite his reelection, Putin is not fairing much better. While he claimed 74.9% of the votes in the election March 18th, there is little doubt, if any, that the election was ultimately rigged, especially seeing that since coming to power he has successfully scaled down free expression, independent voices in several forms of media, and slowly squashed political dissent. While this again reflects poorly on him from an international community standpoint, it is the recent mall collapse in Kemerovo, outside of Moscow that shows that, despite the preventative measures taken by Putin to hide it, there is anger against him and his government directed by the public.
The fire that would kill 64 people, or at least officially sixty-four, would start at 5pm on Sunday 25 March, and is thought to have been started because of an electrical fault. While this would ordinarily be just a tragic accident, it is the way that the fire was able to kill so many that also makes it a crime. Many called their loved ones from the burning building and it quickly became clear that exits were blocked, there was no floor lighting in the movie theater nor was there a fire alarm, and most didn’t find out there even was a fire until it was too late to get out. People jumped from windows onto the concrete below in order to avoid burning to death. Only to be killed on impact since there was no rescue team to catch them. While five people have been detained and the mall is going to be demolished, it still leaves a lot to be angry about, notably why this building, so packed on a Sunday with families out for a bit of relaxation time, was allowed to operate with such terrible safety precautions, the knowledge the that fire alarm had been down for a week and no one had tried to fix it angering many. Therefore, many claim that their loved ones are still missing and have not been marked as such. This is seen as yet another cover up by the government in an attempt to minimize what happened. Following on the heels of the poisoning cover up, this does not speak well for the government. The tragedy would spark protests in Kemerovo where, when Putin would visit three days later, he would avoid the demonstrators chanting “Putin resign!”, and cheering at the resignation of the Regional Governor.
Several reasons exist for Putin to actively facilitate a meeting with Trump, and to ensure its productivity. It would allow him to distract from his domestic strife, give them an international platform where Russia didn’t seem quite so disgraced to look to. Putin hasn’t been invited to the White House since 2005 when he was President Bush’s guest. While Trump and Putin have previously met in Germany, Vietnam or during other international summit meetings, a meeting at the White House would symbolize a greater trust between the nations. Putin could use this belief in him from one of leaders of a world superpower to demonstrate that, at least internationally, he was accepted in political circles again. This meeting could give him the push he needs to convince his own public that the U.S. believes in him and maybe doesn’t seem him as quite the villain the rest of the world makes him out to be. It might also make other global leaders consider their positions on Russia.
President Trump stands to gain much less than his Russian counterpart. While it is true that the meeting might distract from his current tariff war with China and demonstrate that he is at least capable of patching things up with one global power, it’s just a problem of choosing the wrong one at the wrong time. With Putin’s recent diplomatic missteps, it would be unwise for Trump to associate himself with what appears to be such a corrupt government. It would also make him look weak given his recent support for expelling the diplomats from the U.S. It would also be suspicious given the fact that Putin’s meddling in the election is still in question. The President has also been accused of being too soft on Russia in contrast to other nations which again causes problems for his international image. If Yuri Ushakov, the Kremlin’s foreign policy advisor, is, in fact, correct that Trump was the one who proposed the meeting, it shows yet another political mistake on the part of the current administration.
A meeting is not in and of itself a terrible idea, especially if it would mean discussing and coming to a resolution over the diplomat situation and ensuring that the situation avoid falling to Cold War depths; however, at least for the U.S. and Trump, a little time should be given before such a meeting occurs. They do not want to seem partial or too close to the Kremlin.