Fortnightly Review & Analysis: USA, Russia & EU (Vol 2 Issue XIII)

July 01 - 15, 2017

USA

Trump – Putin Meeting at the G 20

United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on July 7 for their much anticipated meeting at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, marking the first face-to-face meeting between the two. Trump said that he and Putin discussed “various things” during their two hours-long meeting, originally scheduled for only 30 minutes.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also attended the meeting along with two translators. According to reports, the two leaders discussed a wide range of issues including Russian interference in the US election, to which Putin denied any involvement while asking the US for evidence that hacking had taken place. According to Jim Acosta of CNN and also Russian state media reports, Putin and Trump also discussed Syria, Ukraine, counterterrorism and cyber security. Tillerson said he thought the interaction was “positive” and that “there was not a lot of re-litigating of the past” during the meeting. “I think both of the leaders feel like there’s a lot of things in the past that both of us are unhappy about,” Tillerson told reporters after the meeting, “The perspective of both of them is, this is a really important relationship.”

“I think it’s going very well,” Trump told reporters, telling Putin that “It’s an honor to be with you. We spoke over the phone with you several times, but phone conversations are never enough.” Putin said, through a translator, “I’m delighted to be able to meet you personally.” Russian media coverage of the meeting is positive too. The government controlled Sputnik News noted that the meeting originally scheduled for 30 minutes, lasted for over two hours and applauded that Trump and Putin agreed “to enforce a new ceasefire across southern Syria that will come into effect within two days.” It also pointed out that for the first time ever, Trump committed the United States to active involvement in implementing the Minsk Accord on Ukraine. For Sputnik, these agreements sparked optimism as the main sources of conflict between Russia and the former Obama administration were Syria and Ukraine. The meeting is seen as a boost to US-Russia relations.The US team, stung by allegations of cronyism with the Russians, tried to make the meeting appear as businesslike as possible. The aim was to present the meeting as a formal bilateral rather than the previously planned informal discussion.

Trump Junior and Russian Officials

But soon after, another scandal broke out raising new questions in the ongoing saga of Russian interference in the 2016 US election. The fallout from the news that Donald Trump's eldest son met with a Russian lawyer after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton has still not died down. According to the New York Times Trump Jr. met with Russian lawyer and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya last year at the Trump Tower in New York, just weeks after Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination. Trump Jr. was joined at the meeting by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, who served as Trump's campaign manager at the time. Veselnitskaya has strong ties to the Kremlin and was at one time married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region, and her clients have included Russian state-owned businesses.

In a statement issued to The Times, in his defence, Trump Jr. said it was a "short introductory" meeting that focused on an adoption program Russian President Vladimir Putin had cut off as a retaliatory measure against the Magnitsky Act, which blacklisted Russians suspected of human-rights abuses. He made no mention of Clinton in the statement. In a more detailed second statement, Trump junior explained, "After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman (Veselnitskaya) stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton." He further added, "Her statements were vague, ambiguous, and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information."

Trump Jr. said the conversation focused mainlyon the adoption program that Putin had cut off and the Magnitsky Act. "It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting," he said. Trump Jr.'s revelations ignited a firestorm, though he has defended himself since the Times' stories were published. He also said he would comply if congressional investigators want to talk with him. But experts say the question is not why Trump Jr. wanted damaging information on Clinton, but why he turned to a Russian national to obtain that information. "These are pretty staggering admissions by Donald Trump Jr.," said Andrew Wright, an associate professor at Savannah Law School, adding, “He confirms that Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chair met with a Russian lawyer for the express purpose of receiving damaging information about Trump's political opponent in an American presidential election." Benjamin Wittes, the editor-in-chief of Lawfare, called the developments "devastating." He said on Twitter that "It shows that the Trump folks were willing to cooperate with Kremlin in exchange for dirt on Hillary." Wittes also said that Trump Jr.'s second statement to the Times indicated his "ONLY interest" in the meeting with Veselnitskaya "was the dirt the Russians might provide on Clinton." Trump's legal team released a statement following the Times' stories saying, "The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting." There is no denying that this incident has emerged as the firmest evidence yet of non-diplomatic interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russian figures.

House Democrat leader Nancy Pelosi said that there was now "cold, hard evidence" that the Trump family intended to collude, possibly with Russia, to influence the elections, and that this should be investigated independently."I... call for the revoking of the security clearance for Jared Kushner. It's absolutely ridiculous that he should have... that clearance," she said. In a related twist to the incident, it has also emerged that a former Soviet counter-intelligence official, Rinat Akhmetshin, now a lobbyist, attended a meeting last year with senior aides to President Donald Trump and his son. He has since re-confirmed to US media he was present at the Trump Tower encounter.

EUROPE - G 20 Meeting

Leaders of the G 20 met in Hamburg, Germany, on 7-8 July. The theme of this year's summit was 'shaping an interconnected world' and the leaders adopted a declaration focusing on four main themes:

• Sharing the benefits of globalization;
• Building resilience;
• Improving sustainable livelihood;
• Assuming responsibility.

Under the four broad areas, they also adopted an action plan to enhance global counter-terrorism cooperation and tackle the menace of foreign terrorist fighters.

Regarding energy and climate, leaders took note of the United States' withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The leaders of the other G20 members stated that the Paris Agreement is irreversible and they endorsed the G20 Hamburg climate and energy action plan for growth. On the migration and refugee crisis, leaders agreed to step up coordination and act against people smugglers and traffickers. Addressing the root causes of migration and supporting countries of origin and transit are also priorities for the leaders.

Leaders stressed the need to better help people seize the opportunities and benefits of economic globalization. They also discussed how to continue building an open and resilient financial system. They committed to increase international tax cooperation and financial transparency, as well as to address the issue of excess steel capacity. Africa's development remained a high priority for the G20. Leaders launched the G20 Africa partnership to boost growth and jobs in the continent. This includes the G20 initiative for rural youth employment which aims to contribute to creating 1.1 million new jobs by 2022.

Delegates stressed the importance of harnessing digitalization to achieve inclusive and sustainable growth as it was recognized that promoting digital literacy and skills is essential to better prepare people for the future of work.In addition, leaders emphasized the value of international health cooperation, in particular to better combat antimicrobial resistance and promote gender equality.