“It is an honor to be with you”: Trump and Putin at G-20 in Hamburg


Donald Trump, Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak at the White House

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Trump and Putin at G-20

We can skip all of the posturing and spinning associated with the meeting of Trump and Putin at the G-20 summit today in Hamburg.

Trump’s statement in the presence of Putin before going into their meeting says it all: “It is an honor to be with you.”

For Trump, it is an honor to meet the military aggressor who invaded and purported to annex the Crimea in February and March, 2014.

For Trump, it is an honor to meet the military aggressor who invaded the eastern Ukraine provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk during the summer of 2014 by irregular forces, and by regular Russian troops beginning in August, 2014. Russian troops remain, as Russia has failed to live up to the commitments in the Minsk II Protocol of February 12, 2015, after failing to honor its original commitments in the Minsk Protocol of September 5, 2014.

Over 10,000 people have died as a result of the Russian invasion and occupation of the eastern Ukraine. Trump is “honored” to meet the man behind their deaths.

For Trump, it is an honor to meet with the leader of a country which committed barbarous war crimes in Syria, bombing hospitals and civilian infrastructure in Aleppo, for example, and being complicit in the commission of the atrocities of the Bashar al-Assad regime.

For Trump, it is an honor to meet with the man who conducted a massive intervention in the American elections in November, 2016, helping to throw the election to Trump himself.

For Trump, it is an honor to meet with Putin, the man who is the presumptive author of the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Russian opposition, on February 27, 2015.

The stark facts are that Trump has a very special place in his heart for Russia and Putin, and would move quickly to help improve relations between the U.S. and Russia by making unilateral concessions, were he not constrained by Republican Senators and political leaders, and his own National Security Council director H.R. McMaster and cabinet-level secretaries such as James Mattis at Defense and Rex Tillerson at State.

Trump likes Russia. He has married two women from former communist countries in Eastern Europe. He has had extensive ties with Russian investors, according to reports. He has fired FBI Director James Comey in an effort to halt the investigation of Michael Flynn and of his own ties and those of his campaign with Russia.

Let’s not waste too much energy getting excited about the body language of Trump and Putin at the G-20, or what their spinners said they talked about in their meeting.

In order to improve U.S.-Russian relations, it is important to understand why they are at a low point.

Russia’s military invasion of the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine, in blatant violation of Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter which prohibits the use of force across international frontiers except in self-defense, is a big reason relations with the U.S. and Western Europe have deteriorated.

There is no statute of limitations for military aggression.

The U.S., and Europe for that matter, will not improve relations with Russia by trying to appease the aggressor, Vladimir Putin. There is no case to be made for the lifting of economic sanctions against Russsia adopted in response to those military invasions, until the Russian troops have been withdrawn and material support for the separatists has ceased.

There may not be much if anything to be gained by “cooperating” with Russia to resolve the Syrian conflict. Many lessons can be drawn from Barack Obama’s efforts to do just that. The U.S. came perilously close to compromising its intelligence capabilities with the Russians under Obama, and failed to do so only in part due to a bombing of Syrian soldiers by the U.S. coalition which left some 60 dead.

The real question is what is Putin prepared to do, aside from offering vague and illusory promises of cooperation in Syria and on terrorism, to improve relations with the United States. So far, the conversation has been about what the U.S. and Western Europe can do to eliminate the sanctions adopted in response to Russian aggression, not about reversing that aggression.

The Senate and the House should enact the Russian sanctions into law, and tie Trump’s hands in terms of his ability to relax the sanctions against Russia.

Congress needs to act vigorously to defend the United States’  national interests which Russia has violated and continues to violate. The only real sanctions, small as they were, in response to the Russian intervention in the elections, was to seize two properties used by Russian spies to conduct the operations, and to expel some 35 Russian agents. Those properties should not be restored to Russia until the fact of the Russian intervention is explicitly acknowledged and verifiable guarantees are received that Russia will not engage in such activities in the U.S. in the future.

Russia is not America’s friend, no matter what half-baked illusions Trump may entertain. He has been, and remains, the first pro-Russian president of the United States at least since 1917. Given this fact, American interests must be protected by Congress. It would be folly to trust in Trump to protect U.S. interests from Russia on his own.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

The Observer
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.

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