Four months after he muscled his way to a fourth term as president of Russia, Vladimir Putin will be anointed with legitimacy when he meets July 16 with President Donald J. Trump, who is an unabashed fan.
Indeed, Trump’s globally reported telephone call to Putin in March to congratulate him on his election victory worried America’s European allies and triggered harsh criticism from a very prominent member of Congress.
“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
McCain chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
TRUMP ON RUSSIA
But Trump, a Republican who has shunned long-standing GOP political orthodoxy on many issues, remains undaunted.
Here are a couple of comments he has made:
“Only ‘stupid’ people or fools” would dismiss closer ties with Russia.
“Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
However, Putin, the iron-fisted dictator whose background as a former KGB intelligence officer was evident in the way he got rid of his political rivals, has a world view that runs counter to the interests of the United States.
Thus the questions: Will the summit later this month in Helsinki be a love fest involving two individuals who do not take criticism well and view a free press as the enemy?
Or, will Trump use his position as the leader of the world’s lone superpower to let Putin know that the U.S. is fully committed to NATO and its other allies and that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military aggression in Ukraine are acts of war?
In the past, Trump, who had never run for office when he entered the 2016 presidential race, has suggested that concerns about Putin’s goal of global domination are overblown and without foundation.
That’s dangerous thinking on the part of any American president because it means Putin is being given the benefit of the doubt. There’s nothing in the way he has governed Russia and the upheaval he has caused around the world that justify kid-glove treatment of him.
Indeed, every time Trump berates America’s allies, as he did recently at the G-7 meeting in Canada and as he has done with members of NATO over the payment of dues, Putin has the last laugh.
On Sunday, National Security Adviser John Bolton rejected the idea that the president is more willing to criticize U.S. allies than authoritarian leaders of rival nations, including Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
Trump is to attend a NATO summit just before he spends time with Putin, which means that once again the world will be treated to an American president bashing allies and then embracing a brutal dictator.
“He wants to understand the Russian position, but, more importantly, he wants Putin to understand our position,” Bolton told “Fox News Sunday” hosted by Chris Wallace. “Let them discuss these issues and see exactly where there might be room for progress or where we find there is no room at all.”
RUSSIA PROBE AS ‘POLITICAL NOISE’
Bolton dismissed the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election as “political noise” that has no bearing on what is going on between the U.S. and Russia.
But the fact is that Putin and his thuggish regime have been caught red-handed orchestrating a hidden campaign to influence America’s presidential election in Trump’s favor over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Putin’s hatred of Clinton stems from her harsh criticism of him while she was U.S. secretary of state in the administration of President Barack Obama.
Trump has conceded Russia was responsible for hacking into Democrats’ email accounts, but he refuses to point the finger of blame at Putin.
That’s why the summit this month is a gift for Putin. Newspaper and television images of the two men embracing will not only elevate Putin in the eyes of his supporters, but will diminish Trump’s reputation among America’s allies.
The only way the meeting in Helsinki will be a success from the West’s standpoint is if Putin is publicly challenged to give up Crimea, to end Russia’s military involvement in regional and global hotspots and to stop murdering his political critics and journalists.
But given Trump’s attitude toward Putin, nothing substantive will come out of the meeting. That’s a shame.