Home / NEWS / ‘A win for Putin’: Russia is exploiting Trump’s ‘credibility deficit’

‘A win for Putin’: Russia is exploiting Trump’s ‘credibility deficit’



Russian
President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with US President Donald Trump
was only supposed to last 30 minutes.

AP

As President Donald Trump finished his two-hour meeting with
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Moscow was
already declaring the bilateral sit-down a victory for
Russia and preparing to tell the press that Trump had
accepted Putin’s assurances that he did not interfere in the
2016 election.

Russian media began celebrating the meeting before
it even ended. Anchors remarked on its length, deciding a
two-hour meeting meant that Putin must be Trump’s favorite world
leader, as tabloids declared it “historic.”

A Russian body language expert told
Russia’s 

Komsomolskaya Pravda
 that
Putin “controlled the situation and decided its tone,” and called
the meeting “a psychological victory for the Russian
president.” 

Another
tabloid

 said the lengthy meeting showed Trump had
become a “pragmatist.”

Emerging from the meeting, which he observed along with US
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister
Sergey Lavrov told reporters in an on-camera press briefing that
Trump “said he’s heard Putin’s very clear statements that this is
not true and that the Russian government didn’t interfere in the
elections and that he accepts these statements. That’s all.”

The White House was effectively forced to play catch-up, issuing
anonymous statements to dispute Lavrov’s
characterization of the talks. “Not accurate,” one official
told NBC.

By the time the Trump administration began pushing back, however,
Lavrov’s comments had ignited a social media firestorm, and were
widely accepted given Trump’s well-documented reluctance to
accept the US intelligence community’s assessment that Putin
tried to help him win the presidency.

“I’m inclined to trust Lavrov, who maintains that Trump
accepted Putin’s denials that the Russian government was
involved,” said Mark Kramer, the program director for the Project
on Cold War Studies at Harvard’s Davis Center for Eurasian
Affairs.

‘If, as I suspect, that is what happened, it was a key
victory for Putin,” Kramer said. “It shows him that he really
does have a sympathetic friend in the the White House.”

Ian Bremmer, president of the political risk firm Eurasia
Group, agreed that Trump is
 “far closer to accepting
Putin’s ‘assurances’ that Russia didn’t hack the election than
others in his administration, not to mention Congress and the
mainstream media.”

“I’m not surprised he didn’t make a big deal about it,” Bremmer
said. After all, in Trump’s mind, to seriously take it
up would be to delegitimize the validity of his own election
win.”

Tillerson, for his part, said Trump had “pressed President Putin
on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement,” which
Putin denied.

But White House officials have continued to dodge questions about
Lavrov’s remarks, without correcting his account: Aboard Air
Force One, “neither Mnuchin nor McMaster deny POTUS ‘accepted’
(as Russian FM Lavrov said) Putin’s denial of US elex cyber
meddling,” CBS correspondent Major Garett tweeted on Saturday.

“What strikes me is that — for the first time — we have an
administration in office whose credibility is about on par with
the Kremlin’s,” said Ned Price, a former CIA analyst who served
as the senior director of the National Security Council under
Obama.

“When it came to conflicting accounts between Washington and
Moscow, Americans used to be able to assume that the Kremlin was
peddling bald-faced lies,” Price added. “With the current dispute
over President Trump’s reaction to Putin’s assurances, however,
this administration’s credibility deficit is coming back to bite
them.”

We’ll ‘tell them to fix that’


trump putin tillerson lavrov
Russian
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson were also at the meeting.


AP
Photo/Evan Vucci



The lack of cohesive messaging coming out of the White
House and Trump’s tendency to contradict his own
aides  — exemplified, among other things, by the

conflicting characterizations of his travel ban
and the

events leading up to his firing of former FBI Director James
Comey
— has undermined trust in the administration’s
official statements and made it difficult to determine what is
true. 

The result is that, in disputes between Washington and
Moscow, “we are left not knowing which side is telling the
truth,” Price said. “It’s truly remarkable that the White House
finds itself in this position, but it does so solely due to
self-inflicted wounds.”

To be sure, there is “no basis for trusting” the accounts given
by Putin and Lavrov, said national security expert Claire
Finkelstein, a professor of law at the University of
Pennsylvania. “But we have heard precious little from the
American side,” she said.

Putin, who has been accused of assassinating Russian
journalists and whose control of the Russian media is nearly
absolute, held a press conference
after the G20 where he implied on camera that the Kremlin held
sway over the White House.

“We didn’t meddle, just ask Trump,” Putin told reporters. When
one pointed out that the White House still hadn’t released any
proof one way or the other, Putin laughed and replied:
“We’ll talk to the White House and tell them to fix that.”

“We’ll talk to the White House and tell them to fix that.”

In refusing to hold his own press conference, Trump allowed
Putin’s words — and the overall Russian narrative — to
linger unchallenged until Sunday morning, when he tweeted
that he “strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian
meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it.”

“I’ve already given my opinion,” Trump wrote.
“We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save
lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively
with Russia!”

But many experts have noted that the ceasefire deal, too,
was negotiated on Russia’s terms.  

“The cease-fire acknowledges and formalizes Russia’s ascendancy
in Syria, and Assad’s remaining in power post-ISIS,” said Glenn
Carle, a CIA veteran. “This is a policy one can debate; but
the decision gives the appearance of having earned something for
the US, when in fact it does Moscow’s work, at Moscow’s behest.”

Kramer agreed: “Putin is out to sideline the United States
in the Middle East. The meeting did not necessarily advance that
goal, but it certainly reflected it. Earlier this year, Trump, to
his credit, seemed to recognize that Putin can’t be trusted on
Syria, and I hope that Trump will not prove to be gullible
now.”


Donald Trump Vladimir Putin
Trump and Putin’s first
encounter at the summit on Friday.


Bundesregierung
Facebook




‘Like giving the alarm code to the guys who just burglarized your
home’

Trump added
on Sunday morning
that he and Putin “discussed forming an
impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, &
many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

That plan, too, has been met with incredulity. “This is like
giving the alarm code to the guys who just burglarized your home.
Just makes it easier for them next time,” tweeted
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio also weighed in: “Partnering
with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with
Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit,'” Rubio tweeted on
Sunday.

“Not only” was Trump’s tweet ‘”ludicrously worded
(suggesting that Trump wants to make election hacking ‘safe’),
but also reinforces the notion that Trump whitewashed the Russian
election interference, just as Lavrov said,” noted Kramer.

Trump later tweeted that “sanctions were not
discussed” at his meeting with Putin, and quickly pivoted to
criticizing Democrats, the media, and his
predecessor.

“Questions were asked about why the CIA & FBI had to
ask the DNC 13 times for their SERVER, and were rejected, still
don’t have it,” he wrote. “
Fake News said 17 intel
agencies when actually 4 (had to apologize). Why did Obama do
NOTHING when he had info before election?”

Broadly, Putin has shown that he understands the workings of
diplomacy to a greater degree than Trump, and  “at least
understands what messages he needs to send, even if they’re false
or manipulated,” Finklestein said. And the biggest takeaway from
the meeting, according to
information warfare expert Molly McKew, is that the US and Russia
“will mutually agree not to meddle with each other.”

In that sense, Trump helped to validate “a longstanding Kremlin
lie that unrest in Russia is due to US interference, rather than
discontent with Russia’s stagnant economy and shrinking personal
freedoms,” McKew said. Trump’s Sunday
morning tweets
calling on the US and Russia to move forward
were all but an acknowledgment that Moscow will not face
consequences for its election meddling in the US and abroad.

Putin, who is deeply distrustful of global institutions, may
actually have gone further in establishing common ground with
western European leaders at the G20 than Trump did: The Russian
leader reaffirmed his commitment to the Paris climate accords —
an agreement the US pulled out of in May — at the summit,
where the US was left isolated on issues ranging from climate to
trade.

“Near term, it’s a ‘win’ for Putin, in that his meeting with
Trump was by far the best the American president had at the G20,”
said Bremmer, of Eurasia Group. “For two countries that are
active antagonists, that’s saying something.”

“Trump personally wants to do a ‘reset’ with Putin, the opinion
of American allies, the media, and congress be damned,” Bremmer
added. “But ultimately he’s going to be severely constrained not
only by that opinion, but the reality of the investigations
coming down the pike. And that’s going to ultimately make
US-Russia relations much worse.”

Sonam Sheth contributed reporting.


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