The first Trump-Putin meeting was held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Hamburg. The talks lasted for more than two hours. Valdai Club Program Director Dmitry Suslov talked to valdaiclub.com about the possible results of the historic meeting.
“The most important thing is that the meeting between Trump and Putin was held at all, because it a priori weakens the US president’s political position at home, given the current internal political situation, and encourages his opponents to continue attacking him,” Dmitry Suslov said.
The fact that Donald Trump decided to hold a full-fledget meeting s despite the advice of some key members of his administration is evidence that the US government seeks to prevent the further landslide worsening of American-Russian relations.
“I do not expect the parties to announce a decisive turnaround in Russian-US relations after the summit. Both Trump and Putin are more likely to make cautious and general statements. The most important thing is that now there is a chance to ward off uncontrolled deterioration in bilateral relations,” the expert said.
“I think that at the talks Trump sent a clear signal that his administration is not interested in approving new anti-Russian sanctions including the sanctions package discussed by the Congress,” he said.
Syria. A truce and delimitation of responsibility zones
The presidents agreed to impose a truce in southwestern Syria. The ceasefire should come into effect on Sunday (July 9). Suslov believes this agreement is highly important. “It is Russia and the United States that are the leaders of the two coalitions that are fighting the terrorist states in Syria. Therefore, the truce agreement has for the first time offered hope for at least preventing armed clashes (if not a settlement in the Syrian crisis) between Damascus and the Syrian opposition which should not be regarded as terrorists,” he said.
According to Suslov, this will make it possible to stop the bloody phase of the civil war in Syria, delimit responsibility zones, start eliminating terrorist groups, and pave the way for a political settlement. “It will be difficult to achieve a full political settlement in Syria, given Russian and US differences over Iran, but the July 9 truce is the first step in that direction,” he said.
Other potential agreements on Syria may primarily envisage the strengthening of the arrangement for preventing military incidents between Russian and US forces and delimitation of the two countries’ zones of responsibility in Syria. “It should be clear which territories that are being liberated from DAISH and Al-Nusra (banned in Russia. – Ed.) are to be controlled by the Assad regime and which by the Syrian opposition,” he said.
In his view, the Trump administration obviously does not want the territories being liberated from DAISH to fall under Damascus’ control. What needs to be done to avoid unnecessary clashes is to divide zones of responsibility.
According to Suslov, US support for four de-escalation zones in Syria, created at the initiative of Russia, Turkey and Iran, would be of much importance. “The preliminary signals before the presidential meeting showed that US support was available. Rex Tillerson said as much,” he said.
This is one of the most dangerous and least regulated areas both in Russian-US relations and the world in general. “Currently cybersecurity pertains to a strategic stability area because cyber weapons make it possible to inflict considerable military damage on each other without using nuclear weapons,” he said.
Cyber-attacks could set off an uncontrolled escalation. This is why Russian-US talks in this area are extremely important. “I hope the two presidents not only discussed the putative Russian interference in the US elections and US interference in Russian politics, but also decided to initiate a dialogue on cybersecurity to develop (for the first time in history) regulations in this sphere,” he said.
The Ukrainian issue
This was one of the issues on the agenda. Dmitry Suslov reminded his audience that the Trump administration “sent a clear and positive signal” in the run-up to the US President’s visit to Hamburg and his talks with the Russian leader by appointing a US special presidential representative for the Minsk Agreements. “This representative is Kurt Volker, formerly a well-known high-ranking US diplomat. This suggests that the United States is still committed to the Minsk Agreements and is not planning to launch a new conflict scenario,” he said.
“Given the current political situation inside the country, the US is unlikely to bring very strong pressure to bear on Kiev to make it implement the Minsk Agreements, but the Trump administration is clearly willing to move in that direction,” he said.
The North Korean nuclear program
Mr. Suslov said Russia and the US were generally of the same view on the North Korean nuclear program (that it should be stopped) but they differed on the approaches to dealing with it.
“I think this difference will persist,” he said.
Strategic stability and the INF Treaty
Suslov believes the parties could not avoid discussing the strategic stability problem and Russian and US reciprocal accusations of having violated the INF Treaty and several other arms control agreements.
“I think the presidents at their meeting should have sent a signal to the executive authorities in both countries to start a Russian-US dialogue on strategic stability as a whole and regarding the fate of the INF Treaty and a New START Treaty in particular,” he said.