There were at least six topics that Donald Trump could have forcefully raised with Russia’s Vladimir Putin at Monday’s so-called summit in Helsinki, Finland. Any other president would have.
First was Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Second was Russia’s presence in Syria.
Third was the unlawful Russian annexation of Crimea.
Fourth was Russia’s intrusion into eastern Ukraine.
Fifth was Russia’s continued and ominous expressions of “concern” for Russian speakers in the Baltic states, particularly Latvia and Estonia, that echo some of the rhetoric prior to Putin’s actions in Ukraine.
Sixth was Russia’s possible help to North Korea given Putin, after all, was reportedly the one who suggested Trump scrap joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises.
But it’s the first lost opportunity that was most astonishing. Trump didn’t criticize the Russians. Instead, he backed Putin’s laughable denials that Russia had meddled in American politics, sneering at U.S. intelligence and justice officials who beg to differ.
Trump was given plenty of ammunition to confront Putin by the remarkable set of indictments issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last week in his ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
The indictments contain such detailed information that they, in effect, sent a message to the Kremlin and its military intelligence branch, the GRU, all but declaring: “We know who you are and where you live.”
‘A powerful tool’
In the hands of a legitimate president, the indictments would have been a powerful tool at such a summit. Trump’s refusal to accept the information, and likely any additional information, from his own intelligence community in order to stand beside Putin and deny Russian involvement has sent the world into shock.