US President Donald Trump has canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit, citing an incident with Ukraine, the latest in a series of attempts to block all talks between Moscow and Washington.
After consulting with his hawkish national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump backed out of the scheduled meeting with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina. It was the first known instance of the US president bowing to those seeking to stop him from talks with Putin – but not the first time they tried.
On the eve of the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, Finland in July, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted twelve Russian nationals on charges of hacking the Democrats during the 2016 US presidential election. Mueller is investigating Hillary Clinton’s claim that Trump “colluded” with Russia to steal an election that was rightfully hers.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted to the indictment by saying it seemed calculated to spoil the meeting. Moscow wasn’t alone in coming to that conclusion: The top Democrat in the US Senate, Chuck Schumer, argued along the same lines, saying that “Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy.”
“The timing is no accident,” John Dean, former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon, told Politico at the time. “It forces Trump to confront Putin. If he fails to do so he is admitting guilt.”
That is exactly how the US media and the political establishment framed the Helsinki summit. When Trump made no mention of ‘Russian meddling’ at the meeting, his critics in the US flew into fits of rage. Some even accused Trump of “treason.” Whatever was discussed at the summit fell by the wayside in the storm of outrage.
The severity of the reaction apparently pushed the Trump administration to postpone the follow-up meeting. At the end of July, Bolton announced that Putin’s visit to Washington, originally planned “in the fall” of 2018, would take place in early 2019, “after the Russia witch hunt is over.” This was a reference to the Mueller probe, using Trump’s favorite phrasing.
Bolton ended up going to Moscow instead. Right before his trip, in late October, Mueller dropped another indictment – this time against an accountant allegedly involved in the project that aimed to “sow discord in the US political system and to undermine faith in our democratic institutions” by posting memes on Facebook.
Trump’s supporters have argued, to no avail, that if anything is actually undermining faith in American democracy, it’s the “Russiagate” hysteria of the president’s critics. More than one Democrat has openly argued that if Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was the result of “Russian meddling,” that means he is not a legitimate resident of the White House. Evidence? There hasn’t been any – only innuendo, insinuations, “connecting the dots” and heaped helpings of conspiracy theories.
Yet most Republican lawmakers seem to have accepted the claim of “Russian meddling” as fact, only quibbling about its scope and impact. Last July, they joined the Democrats in usurping the White House’s foreign policy prerogatives by voting for a law sanctioning Russia in perpetuity, giving it a veto-proof majority.
Whatever the reason, the US political establishment is openly hostile to Moscow. Trump campaigned on being the outsider and draining the Washington “swamp,” only to side with it when it came to killing his idea of better relations with Russia.
Back in March, for example, he ordered a mass expulsion of Russian diplomats from the US – including the UN mission, a step without precedent at the time – on nothing more than the assertion by the UK government that Russia poisoned a former spy with a nerve agent in Salisbury. The same UK government, by the way, that appears to have been involved in spying on his campaign and sourcing the dodgy “Steele dossier” on which most Russiagate conspiracies are based.
“There has been nobody tougher on Russia than President Donald Trump,” Trump said in April. Yet in the same breath, he noted that no matter what he does it is never enough for the media, “because that is their narrative.”
Clearly, Trump is aware that nothing he ever does will dissuade the peddlers of a “collusion” narrative, yet he just handed them a major victory by canceling the G20 meeting with Putin. As he himself would put it: Sad!
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