Oliver Schmidtke, Director of the Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria
By all accounts, the meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin was bizarre. While the American intelligence community unanimously came to the conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 Presidential election and indicted12 Russian military officers for conducting cyber-warfare against the US, President Trump stated that he believed Putin’s reassurance of innocence. The Helsinki summit came at the end of Trump’s European tour that puts the American President’s attitude towards Putin into a troubling light: At the NATO summit Trump harshly criticized his Western allies for not spending enough on their own defense. In the same vein, he condemned Germany for being allegedly under ‘Russian control’ due to its import of Russian gas. In the UK, Trump was not shy giving Prime Minister May suggestions on how to handle the Brexit negotiations, characterizing the European Union as a ‘foe’ to the United States. In marked contrast, during the Helsinki Summit there was not any public condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its belligerent role in Eastern Ukraine or its support for the Syrian Assad regime.
President Trump’s friendly overture to Russia and his suggestion to embark on new friendly relations between the two countries raises some fundamental issues concerning a shifting geopolitical reality: What are the principles based on which the White House conducts its foreign policy under the Trump Presidency? What role do concerns for democratic and human rights play in this context? Where does the rapprochement between the US and Russia leave transatlantic relations that used to be the cornerstone of the Western alliance since the Second World War? President Trump has cast doubt on the fundamental framework of – political, economic and military - cooperation that has traditionally provided the foundation for the community of democratic Western states. The concern now is how far President Trump is willing to go in compromising the partnership between the United States, Canada and its European allies.