Putin-Trump summit: expectations are low
On the eve of meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, European political institutions predict outcome of the long-awaited Russian-American summit. After extremely difficult NATO summit in Brussels, when the US gave ultimatum and demanded its allies to increase defense spendings, many EU countries are in turmoil. Washington doesn't want Europe to improve relations with Iran, doesn't allow it to build the Nord Stream-2, introduces tariffs on European goods. Germany is traditionally biggest victim - Donald Trump publicly criticized it for supporting the Nord Stream-2 and said that it's completely captive to Russian (a very strange statement, considering the fact that Germany was the biggest supporter of the EU's anti-Russian sanctions). At the sme time, Germans are urged to increase defense spendings, perhaps the most unpopular article of expenditure in pacifist postwar Germany. Sabine Fischer, head of Research Division of Geman government analytical center SWP, wrote an article, in which she discussed new developments in the US-Russian relations and place of the Russian Federation in emerging new world order. It's important to note that due to changing nature of transatlantic alliance and growing disappointment of German political elite in Washington, nature of pro-government political science institutions' analytical perception of Russia is changing in a positive way.
Residents of many countries visited Russia in recent weeks. They saw professionally organized World Cup, held in polished stadiums, and were extremely surprised - just like Russian population - by impressive results of the Russian national football team. Meanwhile, political circles are eagerly awaiting the first Russian-American summit, which will be held in Helsinki the day after the World Cup finals, on July 16.
Crushed hope for rapprochement
Russian expectations of this summit are low. After Trump won the elections, which was also surprising for Moscow, there were certain hopes that the US president could abandon sanctions policy, thereby stopping Russia's isolation . This hope was crushed after internal conflict between the US Congress and the White House on America's Russian policy, as well as investigation into allegations that Russia intervened in the US presidential elections. Overall, development of America's Russian policy over the past year and a half made it clear that relations between the two countries are antagonistic and independent of individual political actors or their programs - and this will continue for a long time.
Russian observers note that this summit will be held at this particular time not on Russia's initiative. President Trump, encouraged by his success in dialogue with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June, wants to meet his Russian counterpart as quickly as possible. That's why preparations were made in a hurry. At the same time, according to Moscow, some progress can be achieved only in few discussions - for example, in discussion about expansion of contacts between military of both countries in Syria. The White House demonstrates lack of interest in the nuclear arms control issue, which is an important instrument that helps Russia to maintain strategic balance. Discussions of other issues, such as Ukraine, sanctions, and, above all, issue of interference in the presidential campaign, will unlikely lead to any progress.
Summit can help Russia to get out of isolation
President Putin is in a convenient position thanks to the upcoming summit. The very fact of such meeting is a success for him, because this summit can help Russia to get out of isolation, imposed by the Western states. Moscow believes that Donald Trump's position in the White House has stabilized after a year and a half. Russian partners are impressed by how American president implements his electoral program step by step and is now considering the possibility of a second term. So there's interest in stabilizing relations with him as much as possible. At the same time, concerns over possibility of direct military confrontation in Syria have weakened. Moscow believes that changes in the US foreign policy and turbulence in transatlantic relations are not a temporary occurrence, but a sign of huge shift in international relations. They can lead to what Russia desired since the early 2000s: a multipolar world.
Where's Russia's place in this multipolar world?
But what about Russia itself, where's its place in a new world order? Even during the World Cup, where Russia demonstrates its best side, there are processes that don't fit this philanthropic openness, demonstrated in the World Cup venues. Pension reform, announced in the first week of this tournament, can lead to serious social difficulties for Russian society. It caused extremely negative reactions. Large protests don't occur only because there's a ban on demonstration during the tournament. Composition of the new government team, led by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev shows progressing technocratization of political leadership, which lacks approaches or views on policy that can protect the country from economic stagnation in the medium and long term. There are doubts as to whether he will be able to ensure stability of the country in the next six years. There's also fatigue in the international sphere, and president feels it, even though international relations is his speciality. His recent major initiative to send the UN mission to Ukraine has reached a dead end. Successes in Syria are attributed to Russian military, rather than political leadership. Thanks to the FIFA World Cup, Russia is open to the world for four weeks, and it shows its good side both from football and organizational points of view. There's one question left unanswered: where's Russia's place in a real multipolar world? Meeting between Putin and Trump on Monday is unlikely to answer this question.