Helsinki, July 16: No peace-time engagement between an American and Russian president has been equally scary. The first-ever summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday, July 16, was being seen with apprehension by the West and this is quite a unusual situation for international relations - whether seen from the perspective of history, politics or strategy.
While past historic summits in the neutral state of Finland (though the Finnish people object to being called neutral any more) saw two nations with ideological and political viewpoints and strategic interests clashing, the one in 2018 is more about two unpopular individuals' private meeting and nobody really knows what Trump will indeed achieve in this meeting.
Trump buried all of US's allies ahead of meeting an 'enemy'
Trump's build-up to the summit with Putin was devastating from the West's point of view while a winner for the Kremlin. If the former's constant tirade against the Nato and individual states during the tour which started on July 10 was not enough, his outburst against the European Union (EU) as a foe to the US completely nailed it for the Russians and Putin would be feeling his work of projecting Russia's positive image to be half done, even before meeting his American counterpart. In fact, it will not be an overstatement to say that Putin's happy times after Russia played an impressive host to the Fifa World Cup will continue well after the Helsinki summit, thanks to Trump.
It was an ideal opportunity for Trump to corner Russia
But there were enough reasons for the Americans to corner the Kremlin this time, especially after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian spies on charges of interfering into the US presidential elections in 2016 and Dan Coats, director of National Intelligence, warned about Russia's serious cyber threats to America's digital infrastructure.
Then there are issues over Syria, Crimea and Novichok over which the US leadership could pull up the Russians with effect. But in Trump, the US has got a reluctant leader who prioritises his own intelligence before that of his country, government and administration.
Trump made Putin a natural winner from the summit
Trump went to destroying one American ally after another ahead of his summit with Putin, giving the latter enough encouragement that it would not face at least any serious threat from across the Atlantic - a complete anti-thesis to what it was in the Cold War era when Washington led the West in its confrontation with the Russians.
Trump's own calculations are in complete contrast to those who operate the state by following the set rules. He judges by his individualistic instincts; refuse to get arrested by the tenets of political history and mark a discontinuation in his country's traditional foreign policy approach. For those are tired of age-old politics, Trump's action might augur a new dawn but for America's credentials as the leader of the free world, these tendencies of Trump are suicidal.
The rules of statecraft can't be changed at will, even if the will is a goodwill. If Trump leaves the door ajar, people like Putin and Xi Jinping or even a Kim Jong-un will sneak through and pose dangerous threats to America's national security. Trump's individualism is fine, but only to the point of preservation of his country's security and safety. The man has trashed all established concepts in international relations like collective security, balance of power and realism and is discovering his own way.
For Putin, even a cancellation of the summit in Helsinki (as Democrats in the US demanded after the indictment of the 12 Russian spies) would not have been disappointing. For as long as Trump's individualism is at play, the Russian 'czar' has little to worry about tackling opposition by a united West.