A Trump-putin summit is good news for India
Last week it was announced that US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet in Helsinki on July 16. Trump had been keen on this for some time now and given his penchant for grand events, he is signalling that the meeting is a big achievement. After a June 27 meeting between US National Security Advisor John Bolton and Putin at the Kremlin, Bolton declared, “the fact of the summit itself is a deliverable,” thereby underlining that substantive issues may not really figure in discussions. But tensions within the US polity pertaining to Russian involvement in the US elections remain high. The Senate Intelligence Committee has concurred with the intelligence community’s January 2017 assessment which laid out the case of Russia’s election meddling and concluded that Putin was trying to help Trump win.
Targeting the Trump administration for sending out mixed signals regarding the Russian security threat, leading foreign-policy Democrats have written to Trump urging him to hold Putin accountable for Russia’s destabilisation efforts, including election meddling, support for the Syrian regime and the annexation of Crimea.
A one-on-one Trump-putin meeting being proposed by sections of the Trump Administration would be a big win for Putin who wants recognition as a global statesman. For the West, this seems the beginning of the end of the post-world War II global order where the US and its trans-atlantic partners stood shoulder to shoulder in defence of the liberal order. As Europe’s ties with Russia deteriorate, Trump’s unprecedented outreach to Putin is raising existential questions in western capitals.
A certain amount of stability in Us-russia ties is important not only for the two nations but also for the global order which is passing through a phase of unprecedented flux. From the issues of nuclear, conventional arms and cyber control to the future of contested spaces like Ukraine and Syria, the terrain is huge and complex. Whether Trump raises the issue of perceived Russian intervention in the democratic processes of the US and other western nations will be closely watched by his critics.
While the West is watching with nervousness, a successful Trump-putin summit is good news for India. Deteriorating Us-russia ties have put considerable strain on Indian diplomacy. The most recent example being the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which can lead to sanctions being imposed on countries that engage in “significant transactions” with any of the listed 39 Russian companies. India has close defence ties with Russia and Indian armed forces remain highly dependent on Russia for strategic technologies and supply of spares and maintenance. Alienation from the West has also drawn Russia into Chinese arms causing consternation in New Delhi as the two challenge India on multiple fronts.
As Trump disrupts another foreign policy consensus in Washington and the wider West, he can open up new possibilities for India which will have to re-imagine its major power partnerships. Whether the Helsinki summit leads to something concrete or whether it will turn out to be all hype and no substance remains to be seen.
Harsh V Pant is professor, King’s College London and distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi The views expressed are personal