The meeting that could change the world

Close encounters: Could the Trump/Putin huddle in Hamburg tomorrow enter the annals of history?

Tomorrow, the US and Russian presidents will meet for the first time. Trump and Putin’s relationship is already the subject of intense speculation. Could their conversation shape history?

On one side: a billionaire TV star, famous for bone-crushing handshakes which are designed to throw people off balance. On the other: a former Russian spy, notorious for showing up late to meetings and manipulating his opponents.

They are, of course, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. And tomorrow the two presidents will finally meet each other in person at the G20 summit in Hamburg.

There is no “specific agenda” for the 15-minute meeting, but there are many topics to choose from. Perhaps Trump will rebuke Putin for meddling in the US election. Perhaps Putin will ask Trump to lift sanctions against Russia. Perhaps they will discuss the ongoing war in Syria, where they support opposite sides.

Whatever happens, the meeting will be the subject of intense scrutiny. The Trump team’s relationship with Russia is already the subject of at least one FBI probe. Trump’s aides are keen to avoid a sense that the men are too friendly — but they admit that they do not know what their boss will say.

The meeting comes just days after statues of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev — presidents of the USA and Soviet Union during the 1980s — were unveiled in Moscow. The two men met for the first time in 1985 — and although few concrete things were achieved, they established a personal relationship that helped to thaw the cold war.

“Despite the fact there is as much weaponry as before, the world is nevertheless a safer place,” said Gorbachev at the time.

Other meetings have had a similar impact on history: Richard Nixon’s talks with Mao Zedong in 1972 have been called a “geopolitical earthquake” — they reshaped the cold war and encouraged China to open up to the world.

Then there were the meetings between Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Josef Stalin which shaped the end of the second world war — and the meeting between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain which shaped its beginning.

Could Trump and Putin’s meeting be just as big?

The room where it happens

Yes, say some. They both place a lot of value on personal meetings, and this is happening at a time when tensions between the USA and Russia are escalating. Tomorrow could be a turning point. If they argue or strike up a friendship, it may inform their foreign policy decisions for years. And remember that they can launch 92.5% of the world’s nuclear weapons. The stakes could not be higher.

One meeting is unlikely to make much difference, shrug others. Trump is trapped by the FBI investigation and a highly suspicious congress; he cannot make any lasting deals with Putin. There will be “an Olympian level of macho posturing” between them, as one former national security official put it, but no real consequences.

You Decide

  1. Can you think of a conversation with someone which changed the course of your life?
  2. Will Trump and Putin’s meeting tomorrow be the most important of the 21st century so far?

Activities

  1. In pairs, take on the roles of American and Russian presidents. Imagine what you would say to each other in 2017, and see whether you can come to a shared vision for the next five years.
  2. Research one of the other important meetings shown in the images above. Write a story, in the style of The Day, which asks how important it was.

Some People Say...

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Sun Tzo

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The meeting will take place tomorrow afternoon in Hamburg. This will be the first day of the two-day summit. The encounter will be a formal bilateral talk, rather than a spontaneous or casual meeting. Russia has said that it will ask for the return of two diplomatic compounds which President Obama seized in December.
What do we not know?
What Trump will talk about in the meeting; his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters last week: “There’s no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about.” Both presidents can be extremely unpredictable. It is unclear whether they will be hostile over their disagreements about Syria, or whether they will decide to work together on improving relations.

Word Watch

Manipulating
Putin once brought his labrador to a meeting with the German chancellor Angela Merkel, knowing that she was afraid of dogs.
G20 summit
The leaders of the world’s 20 major economies — the G20 — meet occasionally to discuss international issues.
US election
US intelligence agencies are confident that Russia interfered in the 2016 election by hacking and releasing emails from the Democratic Party and that Putin was personally involved.
Sanctions
Imposed by the USA after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Congress is passing a law which gives it, not Trump, power to lift them.
Cold war
Tensions between the capitalist West and communist East, led by the USA and Soviet Union, which lasted from 1947 to 1991, without ever leading to direct conflict.
Beginning
The Munich Agreement between Britain, France, Italy and Nazi Germany after the latter invaded Czechoslovakia. The UK prime minister, Chamberlain, said it had achieved “peace for our time”, but two years later the second world war began.
92.5%
There are 14,915 nuclear warheads around the world, 13,800 held by the USA and Russia.

Subjects

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