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What will Putin get out of Trump?

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shaking hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.

What might Russian President Vladimir Putin get out of U.S. President Donald Trump at their summit today?

On Sunday, I posed this question to my long-time go-to-guy on Russia matters, Professor Nick Hayes of Saint John’s University, who is steeped in Russian history and current Kremlinology and who, as often before, took me to school, deepening my thinking on the topic.

Thanks, in significant part to the presidency of Donald Trump, Putin has already achieved (or had handed to him) most of the big foreign policy goals he set for himself when he successfully won a six-year term earlier this year, Hayes said.

Even before the summit convened, Putin had advanced toward so many of his key goals that “I would say he gloats,” Hayes said.

NATO is dramatically weakened by the ascent of a U.S. president who sees the NATO allies as a bunch of weaklings, takers and freeloaders. The unity of NATO, a bedrock Western foreign policy — and most especially Western policy for combatting Soviet-and-now-Russian expansionism — has sprung some leaks. The recent NATO summit, airing unprecedented strain between Trump and the European allies, was “a prize Putin could only have dreamed of,” Hayes said.

The idea that NATO might consider adding Ukraine to join the Western alliance, which would be a nightmare for Russia, is in full retreat, Hayes said.

In fact, Hayes said, Putin no longer worries that NATO will do much to force Russia to disgorge the Crimea region, which was legally part of Ukraine when the Soviet Union broke up, but is important to Russia both for strategic and historical reasons.

When Putin occupied and annexed Crimea to the Russian federation in 2014, Hillary Clinton compared it to Hitler’s actions in Czechoslovakia before World War II. The Trump-controlled Republican convention of 2016, by contrast, watered down its tough language on standing up for Crimea. When asked before the summit whether he would confront Putin on Crimea, Trump told reporters, “We’re going to have to see.”

Hayes’ colorful final word on that topic: “Crimea will not go back to Ukraine any more than Texas will go back to Mexico.”

In Syria, where Russia has fought long and hard to preserve control by its best Mideast ally, Bashar El-Assad, the Trump administration policy is muddled, but Hayes says Trump doesn’t threaten Putin’s ability to sustain Assad in power.

Hayes predicted that Trump will declare the Helsinki summit a huge personal success, which would hardly be unprecedented. Trump may dwell, as he often does, on the importance of the personal connection he established with Putin. He craves favorable reviews from the international media as a statesman and anything else that projects an image of competence, proving his detractors are wrong.

“With Trump, you have to keep in mind his ego politics, and he’s anxious to get good reviews, especially in comparisons to previous presidents,” Hayes said, especially previous Republican presidents.

Trump will be upset if the reviews suggest that he was “played” by Putin. But, considering the level of Putin’s experience both in geopolitics and as a long-time KGB man, it’s quite possible that Trump will be played.

And lastly, I just have to mention that Hayes currently holds what sounds to me like the greatest academic gig anywhere, occupying “the University Chair in Critical Thinking” at Saint John’s University.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/16/2018 - 09:58 am.

    Amateur hour

    Will Trump be “played?” Absolutely. An ego-driven amateur, who has already demonstrated that he doesn’t know what he’s doing in any area of policy beyond “Will it enhance my fortune or reputation?” will be dealing with, as the professor has suggested, someone with deep and lengthy experience in both intelligence and geopolitical fields, not to mention many years practicing his craft for the KGB.

    When the president declares the E.U. a “foe” of the United States, it’s not hard to imagine Vladimir Putin giggling in delight as the American leader continues to do his work for him. Most of the people reading MinnPost this morning would do no worse in negotiations with Putin than Mr. Trump, and my bias is that most would – in terms of protecting and enhancing the interests of the U.S. – do better.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/16/2018 - 10:35 am.

    What will Putin get out of Trump?

    We’ll never know for sure.

    Given that the disruption of world security agreements, international institutions, democratic traditions and institutions, and trade agreements has already been achieved, who can predict the next steps?

    And “hardliners” like Boulton spout deceptive tripe—“Franklin Roosevelt met with Joseph Stalin at a time when activity in Russia was a lot worse than it is today. I’m not excusing present conduct, but it didn’t seem to bother Franklin Roosevelt and liberal Democrats weren’t bothered at the time when he met with Stalin so let’s try and have some historical perspective here and not act like we have the attention span of fruit flies.”.

    But this fruit fly remembers that Stalin was in the process of feeding millions and millions of Soviet citizen/soldiers into the meat-grinder of defeating Hitler at the other end of Europe from the US and other allies–thereby saving the lives of millions of non-Soviets. Yes, US soldiers lives–actual US lives that would not be lost in the fighting because of the second front in the Soviet Union, Mr. John “Fruit Fly” Bolton There was transparent realpolitik value in those meeting for Roosevelt and the US.

    Fruit fly !?! No fruit fly!! You’re the fruit fly !!

  3. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/16/2018 - 11:54 am.

    Preliminary reports

    show the meeting is as expected:
    Trump is giving away the farm (fruit flies and all).
    He’s using it as another stage to deny any Russian connection, and Putin is glad to play along.

  4. Submitted by Nick Foreman on 07/16/2018 - 12:10 pm.

    Agree with the early national comments

    Simple treason by trump.

  5. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/16/2018 - 12:23 pm.

    Punk rockers in 1981 saw this coming…

    Senator Ben Sasse (R NE) responded to Trump right as the meeting with Putin was scheduled to start:

    “A better thing, Mr. President, would be to declare: ‘Russia is the enemy of America and our allies, and we will expose and respond to their continued cyber-attacks against our nation.”

    Mueller indicts 12 Russians with much of the ground work laid by career FBI agent Peter Strzok who was filleted by house GOP members last week.

    The Ben Sasses of the world will have cover when Mueller reports, not so much for the Devin Nunes’ and his house cohorts. Every Trump bankruptcy has been marked by his once loyal followers left in shatters, trying to regroup and rebuild their lives as Donald moves on. Just watch the on going triangulation by Jason Lewis, Erik Paulsen and Tim Pawlenty and almost every other R candidate. The best advice for them may be found from The Clash in 1981:

    Darling you got to let me know
    Should I stay or should I go?
    If you say that you are mine
    I’ll be here ’til the end of time
    So you got to let me know
    Should I stay or should I go?

    It’s always tease, tease, tease
    You’re happy when I’m on my knees
    One day it’s fine and next it’s black
    So if you want me off your back
    Well, come on and let me know
    Should I stay or should I go?

    Should I stay or should I go now?
    Should I stay or should I go now?
    If I go, there will be trouble
    And if I stay it will be double
    So come on and let me know

  6. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/16/2018 - 01:50 pm.

    Don’t You Mean, “What Else Will Putin Get Out of Trump?”

    So far, Trump has:

    Made the United States look like it is not an ally that can be trusted to follow through on its commitments;

    Disrupted and made fragile the western alliance that has kept Europe at relative peace for over 70 years (probably the longest that’s happened since the breakup of the HRE); and

    Let Putin know that a blind eye will be turned towards Russian sabotage of democratic elections in the US and, by extension, anywhere in the world.

    What more could an authoritarian dictator ask than that?

  7. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/16/2018 - 01:58 pm.

    We must remember this moment in history

    Former CIA chief, Brennan, used the word treasonous in a sentence describing Trump performance in Helsinki Finland with Putin. If Mr. Mueller doesn’t have a case against Trump for treason, collusion. obstruction of justice, ignorance, and incompetence our country is in big trouble. The ones speaking first from the GOP after the Trump/Putin news conference were GOP members who are NOT running again. The rest of the spineless GOP congress members are MIA until they conjure up a united front of ignorance. I understand the corner they have worked themselves into – no sympathy what so ever. We must remember this moment in history where the Republicans have absolute total control in Washington and words like treason, collusion. obstruction of justice, ignorance, and incompetence are being used to describe the GOP president. Many of those words can be used to describe the GOP congress members at the Strzok hearings which were another display of GOP obstruction of justice, ignorance, and incompetence.

  8. Submitted by Curtis Senker on 07/16/2018 - 02:13 pm.

    Lol. Lot of concrete conclusions based on hysteria, animus, and delusion.

    Why don’t we wait to see what, if anything Trump’s functionaries present to Congress. Because there is nothing Trump can “give away” without Congress being informed, whether their approval is needed or not.

    I do agree though, Crimea is a lost cause. Obama dithered and frittered away any opportunities we may have had to intervene. I seriously doubt Trump would even bring the subject up.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 07/16/2018 - 04:06 pm.

      The end is near(ing)

      Every element of our security apparatus agrees that Russia hacked our election.

      The recent indictment reflects that this was not 400 pound Russian hackers in their bedrooms. It was GRU military officers.

      You can take the side of our country and its’ long established processes or the word of Vladimir Putin.

      You can call it hysteria, animus or delusion, I’ll just call it appeasement…

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/16/2018 - 05:08 pm.

      A meeting with no record, and Putin and Trump with proven records obvious lies and contempt for democratic processes, norms and oversight.

      Why would anyone think that there was more to the meeting than what was said in the press conference?

      And what makes you think that the party in power has a restraining hand on Trump.

      You live in an enviable world…so much trust.

      By the way, should we call this the “Blame America” tour ?

      “”””No matter what comes out of Monday’s summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump has already lost. That’s thanks to a tweet the American commander-in-chief sent shortly after 9 a.m. in Helsinki:Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”””

    • Submitted by Patrick Tice on 07/17/2018 - 05:18 pm.


      Trump has functionaries? His WH staff and “functionaries” have openly disputed his blathering nonsense. Very little about this “administration” can actually administer or function – and that’s a fact.

  9. Submitted by Tom Crain on 07/16/2018 - 04:50 pm.


    I agree with the sentiment posted here (except for those of the resident Russian troll), but would add that we are at least starting to see some evidence of backbone instead of the usual noises the sycophantic Republic congressional leadership makes toward Trump.

    Hopefully it won’t just be those on the way out – like Ryan, Flake and Corker, and more like Sasse who at least has shown some willingness to act on principles.

  10. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/16/2018 - 06:52 pm.

    There are not any consequences for Trump – Yet

    There is something about Republicans and Putin. Remember when George W. Bush said, “He looked into Putin eyes and saw an honorable man”. Now Trump calls Putin a competitor even though we have poof beyond a reasonable doubt that Putin interfered in our 2016 election. Putin is not a competitor, he is a criminal. Trump is a fool being used as a tool for Putin’s good.

    You must remember when Trump goes around making his ridiculous claims, there are not any consequences for him. Whether he speaks the truth or not, there are not any consequences for him. Whether he demeans someone or not, there are not any consequences for him. Whether he calls our allies “Foes” or sides with Russia, there are not any consequences for him. Whether he is president or not, there are not any consequence for him. No matter what he does his life will not change as he has enough money for the rest of his life. In Trump’s sphere you are nothing but something to tread upon. Oh, wait a minute, Mr. Mueller may find something that Trump can’t get out of that will change his life forever because Trump is making it easy for Mr. Mueller. To simplify it let’s just call it Karma.

  11. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/17/2018 - 07:00 am.

    As Mrs. Clinton

    …is reported to have tweeted:

    “Well, now we know.”

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/17/2018 - 10:19 am.

    Some call it treason.Others

    Some call it treason.

    Others will call it merely a change in policy and say “what’s wrong with that ?” anf full speed on implementation.

    Those who object are unAmerican, don’t ya know, They just hate MAGA.

  13. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 07/17/2018 - 12:46 pm.


    In 1867, we bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million. How much do you think it cost Putin to buy it (and the rest of the 49 states) back? It seems likely that it only cost him the interest on a handful of loans to build casinos. Now THAT’s what I call buying low.

  14. Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 07/20/2018 - 09:02 pm.

    I think

    This pretty much says it all!
    Handed the Russians ~ 50% of the electorate: (They will do anything to keep their left leaning American neighbor out of Washington! A very sad state of affairs in (Putin’s America).

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