Now matter how carefully summits between world leaders are scripted, there is always more going on than can be surmised from the surface.
Today’s Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki is no different.
We do know that when Donald and Vlad were first on camera, they were not smiling. No handshake. Trump stared straight ahead, and Putin looked uncomfortable. Putin made a few brief remarks which Trump didn’t understand, and then they shook hands for the cameras.
Next, they went into their two-hour private meeting, with only interpreters present. At Trump’s insistence, Pompeo and Lavrov were not there, no lower-level staff either.
The prevailing view as to why is that Trump didn’t want anyone to interrupt him or undercut him — no leaks. That’s not surprising, because, on a daily basis, he undercuts the people who are, unbelievably, still working for him.
But we here at AP have ways of getting around all that secrecy.
Trump’s interpreter is Foma Kheroshonski. He is our Moscow Bureau Chief.
This is a brief summary of what happened:
“Vlad old buddy, glad to see you, wondering why there was no Mrs. Putin at the opening ceremony.”
“There is no Mrs. Putin any more. I ditched Lyudmila four years ago.”
“I hope you noticed, Vlad, how good Melania looked.”
Immediately, Pussy Riot leader Nadezhda Tolokonnikova entered the room, escorted by Kheroshonski. She’s the activist who, with her fella Pussy Riot leaders, was convicted in 2012 of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” after a performance at the Moscow Cathedral of Christ the Savior and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment.
To see why Putin blanched in horror as soon as Tolokonnikova broke past the security guards to taunt him, check out her video at https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/15/europe/pussy-riot-world-cup/index.html, and you will immediately be struck by the fact that Tolokonnikova speaks better English than Trump. In the video, she says that Trumpistic populism is spreading virulently around the world, the same way that sexually transmitted disease is spread.
Putin recovered quickly, but Trump, who never has a script, seized on the moment to torment Putin for his failure to have anything comparable to his Hollywood Access tape, in which Trump famously bragged on camera about his ability to do anything he wants with women because he’s a star. When the Hollywood Access tape became public in October 2016, millions of pussy hats suddenly emerged on the American landscape at anti-Trump protests. Trump’s only regret about that is that he didn’t rake in a lot of cash from sales of those hats.
Trump then turned to Putin and said, “Vlad, I want to do some things to help you out, and I guarantee that I will get Congress to waive all of Obama’s sanctions.”
“Go ahead and take over all of Ukraine, not just the east. You guys did the right thing by annexing Crimea.”
Putin smiled cautiously.
“And I want you to take over all of Syria. There are too many American soldiers being killed over there, and I need for Rand Paul to know that I have his back.”
Putin reached out and shook Trump’s hand vigorously.
“And Vlad, I want you and me to motor over to St. Petersburg so I can meet those twelve brave Russian military intelligence officers who were named in Mueller’s indictment on Friday. I don’t for a moment want you to extradite them to the US, because that’s something you guys don’t do anyway. I just want to thank them for proving my point that all this talk about how you Russians meddled in our election, that was all Obama’s fault.”
Putin left the room briefly to tell Lavrov to make the necessary arrangements for the impromptu trip to St. Petersburg. Then he walked in with Edward Snowden; Snowden was handcuffed and gagged and thus unable to impress Putin with his ability to speak Russian. Trump stared at Snowden and asked Putin to leave him alone with the former NSA contractor who blew the whistle on how the NSA conducts secret surveillance. During his 2016 campaign, Trump said that if he could get his hands on Snowden, he would have him executed. As he recovered from his surprise at seeing Snowden, he texted Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and told her to take Snowden away and put him in Gitmo as an act of mercy. Then Trump said, “Thanks for that, I really appreciate it, but Vlad, please quit making videos about how easy it would be for you to nuke Florida, because I want us to have a nice cozy meeting at my Mar-a-Lago."
Then Putin raised the issue of NATO. Anticipating Putin’s needs, Trump said that if Putin will visit him at Mar-a-Lago for a great photo-op, he will immediately withdraw from NATO as an act of respect for Russian sovereignty.