By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
After the Helsinki summit July 16th the political elites on both sides of the Atlantic were very negatively reacting, obviously ignoring the implications which such a summit has on world peace. Instead of paying attention to the importance of such historical event, the political establishment in the US – including leading Democrats and Republicans – reacted hysterically, calling the US President Trump a “traitor” (Senator Mc Cain) while the US media as well as the majority of the European press gave the line that the American President had become “hostage of President Putin.” It is indicative that aside some foreign policy experts in Germany who qualified the summit as “propaganda coup for Putin” and a “disaster for Trump”, no European statesman had the guts to make a sober assessment about the strategic implications of the Helsinki summit. As result of such “arrogance” and “strategic blindness” the potential for a strategic crisis and confrontation has not been diminished.
During the press conference following the Helsinki summit on July 16th, the two presidents respectively presented their view about the summit. According to Russian President Putin – in light of the very “negative situation in bilateral relations”, the two presidents mapped out “initial steps to improve them, restore an acceptable level of trust and return to the former level of cooperation on all issues of mutual interest (…) I consider it important, that steps were made how to improve them, restore an acceptable level of trust and return to the former level of cooperation.”
Putin emphasized that the two Presidents discussed, to get the dialogue on strategic stability and the non-proliferation of weapons. “We believe that a continued joint effort to fully work through the military-political and disarmament dossier is necessary. This includes the renewal of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), the dangerous situation surrounding the development of elements of the US global missile defense system, the implementation of the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate Range and Shorter Range Missiles, and the topic of deploying weapons in space.” Another issue of discussion topic, according to Putin, was Syria: “we have all the requisite elements for effective cooperation on Syria. Notably, Russian and American military have gained useful experience of interaction and coordination in the air and on land.” (In an interview with Fox TV anchorman Wallace, Putin had stated that there was generally good cooperation in Syria, “we maintain cooperation between our militaries and special services. Their work concerns the fight against terrorism in the broad meaning of the word.”) Aside the discussion about the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on the Iranian nuclear issue about which Russia expressed its concern, there was, as Putin stated, “as well a discussion about the Ukrainian crisis, the importance of observing the Minsk agreements and the need to develop trade and investment.”
President Trump, on his side qualified the discussion as a “productive dialogue, not only good for the US and Russia but also for the world. A constructive dialogue to open new pathways towards peace and stability.” He mentioned that they discussed about the issue of Russian interference in the US elections: “We spent a great deal of time talking about it”. As well as about Syria, “cooperation between our two countries has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives (…) We also agreed that representatives from our national security councils will meet to follow up on all of the issues we addressed today and to continue the progress we have started right here in Helsinki.” There was one particular statement following the questions from the media about Russian election interference, to which Trump responded: “My people came to me, Dan Coats and some others. They said, they think it is Russia. I have President Putin – he just said it is not Russia. I will say this: I do not see any reason why it would be”. A response which produced a storm of protest in the US, forcing the President to correct his own statement (“it wouldn’t be”).
Observers’ reactions from Russia
The Russian ambassador to the USA, Anatoly Antonov, after attending the Helsinki summit, according to Valdai news noted the importance of the meeting between Trump and Putin for the “history of Russian-American relations.” According to Antonov, “paradoxically the main result of the meeting was the summit itself” and the fact that the two Presidents could talk calmly about the pressing international problems, regional and global security, as well as about the agenda of strategic stability and arms control. “Therefore this fact should be considered positively.” The Russian ambassador was particularly critical about the American media: “The media had a lot of fake news, distortion and negative reports about what happened at the summit on July 16. Why do Western media think that the meeting of the two presidents was bad? In my opinion it was wonderful! The stronger the dialogue between our countries, the stronger is the security of European states, Russia and the United States.” Antonov stated that it was important that “we identified the problems that need to be resolved (…) We want the dialogue to become permanent and the two leader to meet on a case by case but regular basis, to know and understand the problems better and solve them.” He also mentioned the START Treaty – which ends 2021 and which resolved many issues, from missile defense and imbalances in conventional weapons, to the weapons in space. Negotiations should begin now, if the treaty is to be extended beyond 2021, he said. He summed up his assessment by stating that “the task is not to multiply the number of summits, but to develop them, to move forward, we want the dialogue to be permanent and the leaders to meet regularly. The Russian side is always open to such proposals.”
Andrey Sushentsov (Program director of the Valdai Club Foundation) in a commentary to Valdai news qualified the relationship between Trump and Putin as “stable and confident”. Despite the American establishment moves against its own President and accuses Russia, Sushentsov emphasized that such “high level summits are definitely useful.” According to Andrey Bezrukov (associate professor in the Moscow State Institute of international relations of the MFA of Russia) Trump’s real concern is the midterm US elections which will take place in autumn. After these elections, Trump will finally obtain the opportunity to shape up his foreign policy. As he commented in a Valdai news article, “it is important to note that the first full-format meeting was a watershed, so now the leaders of the two great powers have an understanding of how they could cooperate and there are lots of areas to do it.”
“Towards a NATO-Russia Basic Understanding”
On this background it is useful to study some more constructive statements which have been formulated by a pan-European network of defense military business and diplomatic experts from Western, Eastern Europe and Russia (the European Leadership Network, ELN) which since its foundation in 2011 has been calling for a nuclear free future and cooperative dialogue between Russia and NATO. The statement “Towards a NATO-Russia Basic Understanding” is a useful and constructive intervention which stands in contrast to the hysteria expressed by some members of the political elites within the EU and NATO whose aim is to accuse Russia and split Russia away from Europe.
The above mentioned position paper “has been compiled by a task force that is supported by and draws on, independent analytical work by the European Leadership Network (ELN), the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) and the Global Relations Forum (GRF). Among its members are Igor S. Ivanov (former Foreign minister of Russia, President of Russian International Affairs Council and corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Science, Task Force Co-Chair); Adam Daniel Rotfeld (former Polish Foreign Minister); Volker Ruehe (former Defense Minister, Germany); Malcolm Rifkind (former Foreign and Defense Secretary, UK); Pierre Lellouche (former Secretary of State for European Affairs and Foreign trade, France); Vitaly Zhurkin (Director emeritus of the Russian Academy of Science, RAS, Institute of Europe, RAS full member, Russia); Stefano Stefanini (former diplomatic advisor to the President of Italy and former permanent representative to NATO); Nathalie Tocci ( Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali, special advisor to the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Italy); Erich Vad (Retired Bundeswehr general and Director of Military Policy at the Federal Chancellery until 2013 and lecturer at the universities of Munich and Salzburg, Germany); Ruslan Grinberg (Scientific Director of RAS Institute of Economics, Corresponding Member of RAS), Igor Yurgens (Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Contemporary Development, Vice President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs) as well as Klaus Wittmann (retired Bundeswehr General, Senior Fellow Aspen Institute, Germany).
In a preceding paper “Managing the Cold Peace between Russia and the West” (July 2017) four fundamental principles were stated, among them: “That our political and military leaderships should accept that a war between Russia and NATO cannot be won and must never be fought and any attempts to achieve political goals by threat or use of force would be futile.” They should recognize “the grave risk of an un-managed, un-regulated deterrence relationship, in which unintended escalation is more likely to happen.”
In their July 2018 position paper, the Task Force on Cooperation in Greater Europe members state that they aim to “inject new thinking about how Russia and NATO could safely coexist in the years to come and how Europe’s security could be improved as a result. Given the fact that at present there is no disciplined and results oriented NATO Russia Dialogue, what is needed is a shared understanding about the basics of the current relationship which could not only reduce the risks but enable all sides to make better progress on specific issues in the NATO Russia Council (BRC) the OSCE and in ad hoc and bilateral setting”. The paper outlines nine elements concerning future cooperation, which includes the “re-affirmation of the language of the Founding Act and Rome Declaration that the NATO-Russia Council will remain the principal structure and venue of consultations between NATO and Russia in times of crisis and for any other situation affecting peace and stability.” They point out “the commitment to work constructively to resolve existing conflicts in Europe, with priority given to supporting the establishment of a UN mandated peacekeeping mission in Eastern Ukraine.” This furthermore should include the commitment towards military restraint and strict sufficiency in military activities, exercises and deployments, in the conventional and nuclear spheres, along the NATO-Russia borders. Finally they call for the establishment of “channels for regular and emergency military to military contacts, involving the military leaderships of the Alliance and the Russia Ministry of defense.”