Updated Jul 16, 2018 - Politics & Policy
Expert Voices

Trump's appeasement of Putin undermines U.S. diplomatic posture

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018, in Helsinki, Finland.

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. Photo: Chris McGrath via Getty Images

At President Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday, he assigned blame to the U.S. and complained about Robert Mueller's “witch hunt,” showing indifference to Russia’s meddling in both Ukraine and the 2016 U.S. election. His performance could scarcely have been more favorable to Putin or more threatening to the security of American democracy.

Why it matters: The press conference will create a lasting disconnect between the president and his national security team. It will now be much harder to continue assuring U.S. allies that they can ignore what Trump says.

Last week’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers amplified what was already widely known: In 2016, Russian intelligence hacked into private U.S. email accounts and disseminated stolen information to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign and tip the scales in Trump’s favor.

With the indictments weighing heavily on the summit, Trump, standing next to Putin, continued to deflect, deny and dismiss the findings of his own country’s intelligence community, at times citing a wandering list of grievances about Clinton and U.S. law enforcement.

Trump went so far as to contradict his own Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, giving equal weight to Coats’ assessment of Russian meddling and Putin’s denial of it. Trump's advisers, including U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, appeared stunned by his comments.

The bottom line: The conference stands out as a uniquely submissive moment in the country’s recent history. It also fully fits Trump’s diplomatic worldview: He belittled and insulted longstanding friends and allies last week, and today appeased a major adversary — all of which redounds to Putin's benefit.

Paul Stronski is a senior fellow in the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Foundation for International Peace.

Go deeper