Trump, Putin and Russian leaders in the US

Meet & greet: (left to right) Eisenhower and Khrushchev; Reagan and Gorbachev; Bush and Putin; Trump and Putin.

Should Putin go to the White House? After a controversial summit, Trump shocked the world again by inviting the Russian leader to Washington. But the visit is far from unprecedented.

Fifteen minutes into an interview at a high-profile security forum on Thursday, the US director of national intelligence, Dan Coates, was informed of some breaking news. “Putin is coming to the White House,” said the NBC reporter. Coates raised his eyebrows and let slip a shocked laugh. “OK, that’s going to be special,” he eventually replied.

Yesterday, the intelligence chief sought to clarify his remarks, saying he “didn’t mean to be disrespectful” or to criticise President Donald Trump’s decision to invite Vladimir Putin to Washington at the height of a scandal over Russian election meddling. But his reaction was far from unique.

The announcement was met with widespread incredulity, coming just days after Trump enraged the US intelligence community when he appeared to put more faith in Putin than his own FBI agents — and then backtracked. CNN called the planned visit “unfathomable”.

But is it really so unusual?

There is a long history of Russian leaders visiting the White House, even during the Cold War. While Dwight Eisenhower’s 1959 meeting with Nikita Khrushchev was marred by the Soviets shooting down a US warplane, Ronald Reagan’s summit with Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 led to a nuclear missiles treaty. Putin himself visited the White House in 2001, when he promised to offer assistance to US citizens affected by Hurricane Katrina.

High-profile summits are a staple of Trump’s foreign policy. He is a businessman with a reputation as a “deal-maker”, who has repeatedly shown he is more comfortable holding one-on-one talks with strongman leaders like Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping than negotiating with the US’s allies in the EU and NATO.

But Trump is not just any president, and his unusual relationship with Moscow has cast a shadow over his presidency. His support for Putin last week heightened speculation that Russia may have kompromat on Trump.

Moscow says it is “considering” the invitation.

Should Putin visit the White House?

The Russian Bear

No, argue some. The invitation undermines the West’s attempt to sideline Russia for its military action in Ukraine and Syria, and the recent Novichok poisonings. As the Trump campaign is investigated for possible collusion with Moscow, it’s inappropriate and dangerous to leave Trump alone with Putin. Besides, his talks with Putin and Kim were all theatre with no concrete results.

Of course he should, say others. Like him or not, Putin is the leader of a dangerous superpower and he could be around for a long time. With 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons between them, greater cooperation and a productive dialogue between the US and Russia could help avoid stand-offs like those seen during the Cold War era.

You Decide

  1. Should Putin visit the White House?
  2. Are high-profile summits effective means of diplomacy?

Activities

  1. Research which Russian presidents have visited the White House, and plot their visits on a timeline.
  2. Imagine you are President Trump. Write a letter to Congress explaining your reasons for inviting Putin to the US.

Some People Say...

“Sometimes it is necessary to be lonely in order to prove that you are right.”

Vladimir Putin

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On Friday, the White House announced that Trump had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington in the autumn. The news sparked widespread anger in the US, with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer saying that Trump “should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin.” The Russian ambassador to the US has said he does not “understand why the Western media think it’s bad that two presidents are meeting.”
What do we not know?
What Trump discussed during his two-hour, closed door meeting with Putin in Helsinki last week. Democrats have demanded notes from the talks, fearing Trump may have given Putin information that could compromise US national security. Others fear Russia may have recorded the conversation to use against the US president.

Word Watch

More faith in Putin
Trump said he accepted Putin’s denial that Moscow was involved in meddling in the US election through hacking and propaganda, but later said he misspoke.
Cold War
A time of heightened tensions between the Soviet Union and the Western allies between 1947 and the former’s collapse in 1991. At several points, many thought that nuclear war could be imminent.
Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping
Trump has held spectacular meetings with North Korea’s Kim and China’s Xi. Neither are democratic leaders, and both have a history of human rights abuses.
Kompromat
A Russian abbreviation of “compromising materials”. Russia is known to collect information on high-profile foreign figures through surveillance.
Ukraine and Syria
In 2014, disguised Russian forces took over Crimea, which had been part of Ukraine. Russia is also supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the war.
Novichok poisonings
Moscow is believed to be responsible for the poisoning of a former spy in Salisbury with a nerve agent.

Subjects

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