Trump and Putin: What Comes Next?

    Nikolas K. Gvosdev

    Politics, Eurasia

    U.S. president Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin talk before a session of the APEC summit in Danang, Vietnam. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via Reuters

    Will a future, formal Trump-Putin summit be a game changer?

    Last week, writing in these pages, I noted that any encounter between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that would take place at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, would have to address two critical questions if there was to be any clarity in U.S.-Russia relations. We’ve now gotten a first draft of answers.

    I argued that, for the Russian side, the overarching issue is whether or not Donald Trump is calling the shots on U.S. policy. Seven days ago, the White House press operation was signaling that there would be a formal encounter between the two presidents, a scheduled meeting with a defined agenda. As the week progressed, the United States began to back away from those announcements. By the end of the week, the encounter was a far less structured event, essentially folded in around an informal stroll to a photo opportunity and brief chats in between APEC sessions—nothing at all like the meeting that took place at the G-20 summit in Hamburg in July. What happened? And does it suggest that Donald Trump has a George W. Bush problem—the apparent inability to take a personal rapport with Vladimir Putin and transform it into concrete policy directives?

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