Trump’s friendly meeting with Putin further blurs US-Russia relations

Trump-Putin chat for hours, not even Melania could separate the two

It emerged early this morning: a few seconds of grainy footage showing U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Trump, the taller man, stoops to meet Putin on equal terms. He pats him repeatedly on the elbow, and then on the back.

Later, as they sat side-by-side in matching cream-colored chairs, Trump called it “an honor” to meet Putin. The Russian president noted that they had talked on the telephone several times, but that talking on the telephone is never enough. An interesting choice of words, given Putin’s disconcerting habit of leaking the private conversations of foreign leaders.

So what can we learn about their relationship and the future of U.S.-Russia relations from this single meeting?

Hidden planning

They talked for more than two hours, far longer than the scheduled half hour. According to a briefing given later in the afternoon by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, they discussed Syria, Ukraine, terrorism and cybersecurity, including “interference in the democratic processes” of the U.S. and other countries. And Tillerson announced that the U.S., Russia and Jordan have agreed to a ceasefire in Southwest Syria between the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces.

This was a substantial agenda, made to seem more impressive by clever expectations setting and misdirection undertaken by administration officials in advance of the meeting.

The official announcement of the ceasefire was held back so that the meeting would have a “deliverable.” However, the Associated Press gave the game away by reporting the deal while Trump and Putin were still talking.

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