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Spotlight: Expectations low as tensions loom for Trump-Putin summit
Last Updated: 2018-07-16 01:16 | Xinhua
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Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet on Monday in the Finnish capital Helsinki, amid tensions ranging from allegations of Russian meddling in U.S elections to clash on the Syrian war.

Differences between the two countries are so wide, that analysts sound suspicious of substantial results coming out the summit despite good-wills from the two leaders.

INDICTMENTS RAISES STAKES

As Trump's Europe tour and the FIFA World Cup Russia continued to grab headlines, bombshell dropped across the Atlantic, casting a long shadow over the looming summit and putting the alleged Russian meddling of U.S. politics right into limelight.

Over the weekend, the U.S. indicted 12 alleged Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly interfering with the 2016 presidential elections.

While Putin has on numerous accounts denied any wrongdoing, the indictments on the eve of the summit heightened tensions and prompted renewed calls for Trump getting tough on Russia.

Senator John McCain, a fellow Republican well-known for his hawkish view on Russia, suggested the Helsinki summit might be better cancelled, "if President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable". He was joined in calling for scrapping the summit by leading Democratic politicians.

Unlike other major conflicts between the U.S. and Russia, this issue was distinctly personal for Trump: the alleged interference, if proved, appears to be conducted for Trump's benefit, therefore undermining his legitimacy, according U.S. media reports.

Trump has said he will raise the issue with Putin, but is now apparently under much bigger pressure. For the part of Russia, the Foreign Ministry has said the purpose of the indictments is to spoil the atmosphere of the summit.

TENSIONS OVER REGIONAL CONFLICTS

The Trump-Putin summit is a reminder of the Cold War summits here between Leonid Brezhnev and Gerald Ford in 1975, and Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. Bush in 1990.

The current situation is indeed somehow similar with that at the heyday in the East-West confrontation, with the two countries deadlocked on issues as far-ranging as Iran, Ukraine, Syria, nuclear arms treaty and sanctions of Russia.

Further exacerbating the issue is the unprecedented alienation of the United States and its trans-Atlantic allies. From G7 summit in June to the NATO summit last week, Trump distanced traditional allies over defense spending and trade.

The first face-to-face meeting of the two leaders has thus raised concerns in Europe whether Trump could maintain U.S. commitment to its allies, especially in light of his perceived amiability toward Putin.

"Some leaders in Europe are anxious that Mr. Trump would indirectly support" Russia's position on Crimea and deals could also be made with regard to Syria, said David Criekemans, associate professor in International Relations at University of Antwerp, Belgium.

"It could also be that Moscow and Washington try to decide on the fate of Europe amongst themselves. Hence apprehension on the side of some European countries," Criekemans told Xinhua.

LOW EXPECTATIONS

It's not immediately clear what -- or whether -- the two leaders will sign or declare at the end of their meeting, and analysts are not optimistic about the odds.

"Having a meeting and dialogue is good, but it usually leads to good outcomes only if it's been prepared in some way, and this quite clearly hasn't been prepared in the way they usually are," said Charly Salonius-Pasternak, a senior research fellow with Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

"U.S. and Russian presidents could meet and sign an actual agreement, that would be great, but it doesn't seem like that is a priority for at least Trump for now," Salonius-Pasternak said.

The meeting is overdue and necessary, according to Valery Garbuzov, Director of the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies of Russian Academy of Sciences.

But there were so many wild accusations and speculations between the two countries, according to Garbuzov, that absent substantial changes in the external policies of the US and Russia, it's difficult to foresee changes in bilateral relations after the summit.

"Real agreement is unlikely and politically risky for Trump," said Stephen Sestanovich, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, adding the two may just "look for new positioning".

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