Trump-Putin meeting in Helsinki (SHAPOCHKINA for RFI)

Why Helsinki? Is not the choice of the meeting place in Finland reminiscent of the Cold War?

The choice of Finland as the place for the first têt-a-têt meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin brings to mind the memories of the Cold War, when Finland occupied a special neutral position between East and West. Some commentators have remembered the Helsinki Accords of 1975, wondering whether a new security agreement is about to take shape between Russia and the US, with the EU in the spectator seat, deepening a growing rift between Europe and America. Finland might have been chosen for its historic neutral status, proximity to Russia in historic, geographic and business sense, as well as to highlight the deterioration of the US-Russia relations today to the level of the Cold War. However, Finland is part of the European Union and therefore is not entirely neutral. It is revealing that there was a need for a third place to meet for the two presidents, meaning that they were not ready to give priority to either Moscow or Washington.

Is weaker Europe in a common interest of Trump and Putin?

The EU has been weakened politically after Trump’s numerous assertions about the need to diminish the US contributions to NATO.  Trade wars with Europe have further soured the relationship: the withdrawal of the US from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations and the introduction of trade tariffs on European goods. These actions undermine the historic US allies and are playing into the hand of Russia, allowing Moscow to draw some of those allies into its own orbit.

Both Trump and Putin seem to reject the post WWII international order and want to review it.

Yes. However, the US does not perceive Russia as an equal partner today. This role is played by China, with which the US engages in the type of war important for both sides: trade wars. With the trade turnover between Russia and the US at 27 billion dollars (2016, USTR), Russia is playing in a different league; hence the need of Moscow to prove its worth through military means. Indeed, Russia started reviewing the post-war world order when it annexed the Crimea in 2014. The lack of a clear stand toward this development by Donald Trump does not represent the US foreign policy position. Instead, it shows once again a cleavage between the American president and the institutions in their attitude toward Moscow. The House Intelligence Committee and the Special Persecutor Robert Muller have been investigating the Russian interference in the US presidential elections of 2016. Whether Trump’s personal perception of Russia as a strategic partner will influence his institutional partners at home is not a given.

The interview can be heard in French here.