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The Historical Significance Of The Meeting Between Trump And Putin


The New Yorker's Susan Glasser has been talking to current and former U.S. officials about the summit. She tweeted that one American official in Europe wrote to her today, quote, "it is a dark day for any patriotic American." Well, Susan Glasser is here in Helsinki and here beside me now. Sue, nice to see you.

SUSAN GLASSER: Thank you so much for having me.

KELLY: So that quote, "a dark day for any patriotic American" - what do you make of that comment?

GLASSER: Look; I think we're all hearing - those of us who've covered Russia for a long time - things along a similar vein. What I'm struck by, having watched Vladimir Putin for the last 18 years now, is how much he's managed to unite Russia-watchers, who are often a fractious and feuding group, you know. But when I've talked with Democrats, Republicans, they are extremely united on this - Hawks, Doves. They feel that this is a summit without precedent in American history, whether with a Soviet leader or a Russian leader.

And I think, in some ways, the reaction just as telling as that email I received from a very senior U.S. official here in Europe was the reaction - the public reaction of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. You know what he said? He said it was better than super.

KELLY: Well, I was going to ask, and you mention, that you have covered Russia for a long time. You were Moscow bureau chief for The Washington Post as Vladimir Putin came to power. Is Lavrov's opinion - is that the way this is likely to play - this was a good day for Russia?

GLASSER: Well, that's the way that it's playing in Russia. And, you know, as you've noted, there's a lot of pushback, even from many Republicans. Now you didn't hear these same voices before the summit publicly saying that it shouldn't be held.

But I think it's important to note that it was actually Donald Trump's own insistence that this summit take place. He's the one who invited Vladimir Putin to have a meeting in the famous - now-famous do not congratulate phone call back in March when he did congratulate Vladimir Putin.

His own advisers, obviously, were cautious about this. They were ordered by President Trump, flush in what appeared to be his triumph in Singapore. He came back and he said, now I want to have this summit. And here we are just a couple weeks afterwards.

I can't stress enough how unusual that is. This was a hastily prepared summit. There was no agreed-upon, substantive agenda. There were none of the normal deliverables that normally would be negotiated well in advance of a high-level meeting like this. And so you had Trump, really, in control of this thing. So he said, on some level, exactly what he wanted to say today to us.

KELLY: Obviously, there's a lot we don't know about, particularly, what got said in the one-on-one meeting between Trump and Putin. But from where you sit, did the U.S. get anything out of this? Was this a success on any level by your read?

GLASSER: I think it was a success for Vladimir Putin. I think that's the only way to look at it.

KELLY: On the other hand, some of the, you know, fears that had been raised by people who did not want the president to hold this summit or wanted it to be more carefully planned out - you know, he didn't make a grand bargain on Syria. He didn't recognize the annexation of Crimea, at least that we know of. He didn't threaten to pull out of NATO or otherwise sabotage NATO. None of that came true.

GLASSER: Well, I think that's an important point, Mary Louise. We don't know yet, obviously, what was discussed at that more-than-two-hour private meeting. Again, I would note that was requested by President Trump, not by President Putin - the private one-on-one meeting with no other American officials present. So we don't know what happened in that.

But I think you're right that there was a lot of bracing for the worst among the sort of Russia policy wonks that I talked to in and out of the government in that the - President Trump has, in the past, publicly appeared to be sympathetic to the Russian argument about why they took over Crimea. He has voiced in the past, as you know, publicly saying Russia should be allowed back in to the G-7 as recently as a month ago. Even last week in his tour of Europe, he also said, maybe we should consider ending exercises in the Baltic.

He didn't do any of that today. So what you'll hear from Trump allies is a little bit of pushback saying it wasn't the president's language that we should pay attention to but the policy.

KELLY: All right. All right, that is The New Yorker's Susan Glasser here with me in Helsinki. Thank you.

GLASSER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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