All the fun people are having right now on internet when Vladimir Putin has finally met Donald Trump. Social media is full with gifs and memes about the two big emperors of global politics finally coming together.
Intense suspicions remains about the relationship between Trump and Putin, that Russia ‘hacked the election’ in order to ensure Hillary Clinton’s defeat. President Trump’s meeting with Sergei Lavrov in May was considered highly wicked, especially after Donald Trump accidentally gave away a state secret, apparently just to show off. Some reports today suggest that the Russian President Putin will ‘manipulate Trump with flattery’ to make him bend to his will.
But the reality between Moscow and Washington is different, since we’ve seen no substantial change in US-Russian relations, just the usual subterranean cold-war antagonism. There has been no ‘Russia reset’ in American attitudes towards the Kremlin, as there was at the beginning of the Obama presidency. Far from being Putin’s puppet, Donald Trump has resorted to the standard 21st century, moderately hostile US approach to the Great Bear. On Thursday, he criticized Russia for destabilizing the Ukraine, and even for supporting ‘hostile regimes including Syria and Iran’. The ‘why can’t we get along with Russia?’ line from his election campaign has been all but forgotten.
After his first meeting with Putin, Obama said he was ‘very convinced the prime minister is a man of today and he’s got his eyes firmly on the future.’ Trump will be surely criticized if he says anything nearly so positive. No doubt today’s encounter will be friendly, different than standard very rude Trump’s tactic with someone before a summit and then play nice. But the overall tone of his East v West rhetoric so far has in fact been as anti-Russian as all Washington establishment could have wished for.