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Saturday, September 29, 2018, 07:11 (GMT+7)
Russia-US Summit 2018 – outcomes and outlook

The Summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin took place in Helsinki (Finland) in July 2018. The Summit referred to the issues related to the interests of each nation and the world’s security and politics as well as started a new trend in the relations between the two sides. This meeting has received different opinions from the public and expressed the complicated nature of the relations between the two rivals when the world’s situation has witnessed changes.

US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met each other in Helsinki (photo: Reuters)

The context of the 2018 Helsinki Summit

According to observers, since the end of the Cold War, the Russia-US relations have continued to have “ups and downs” following changes in the world’s security and political situation. In recent years, the relations between the two sides have been “warmed” only when they have come to an agreement on several international issues, such as anti-terrorism, Iran nuclear deal, settlement of chemical weapons in Syria, and North Korea’s nuclear program. However, the two greatest nuclear powers in the world basically are in confrontation with each other in political, diplomatic, defence and security terms as well as in related international issues, such as Crimean Peninsula, conflict in Syria, and strategic weapons of each side. The thorniest issue now is that Washington accuses Russia secretly interfering in the US Presidential Election in 2016. Accordingly, America and Western countries keep attacking Russia diplomatically and imposing economic sanctions against this country. Furthermore, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is expanding its membership towards the East which is close to Russia’s border as part of the strategy to besiege and isolate Russia. Against that backdrop, Russia resolutely takes measures for retaliation, which makes the relations between the two countries much worse. However, in fact, the tit for tat between Moscow and Washington will not help settle the issues. That will damage each country’s interests and make the world’s security situation even much more intense. Besides, the US-North Korean Summit held in Singapore (June 2018), to some extent, has helped alleviate the tension in the Northeast Asia. To ensure the interests of both Russia and America as well as the safety of each country and the life of millions of people, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to meet each other in Helsinki to improve the relations, avoid confrontation, foster cooperation, and settle relevant international issues.

Results of the Summit

According to Moscow, although the meeting took place under another scenario, it had good and very helpful results. Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov assessed the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin as “fantastic”. After the meeting, US President Donald Trump assessed it as “profound and helpful for Russia, America and the whole world” and believed that it marked a turning point in the US-Russia relations. Meanwhile, it is thought that the meeting obtained several important results as follows.

First, both countries realized that it was necessary to closely control the situation and anticipate all the things; therefore, they decided to restore bilateral dialogues to prevent their relations from becoming worse. This is the reason why Donald Trump announced that America and Russia had to seek measures for “cooperation to pursue the shared values”. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin believed that the meeting expressed the wish of the two sides to restore the cooperative relations in various fields soon.

Second, the US-Russia Summit proves that the Cold War in the relations between the two countries nowadays stems from subjective causes, not objective ones. To end this situation, heads of the two states and groups of experts from the two sides held direct dialogues to improve the mutual understanding, build strategic trust, settle differences, and develop the cooperative relations on the basis of the interest of the two sides. After the meeting, the two leaders announced that “the Cold War in the US-Russia relations ends at the meeting in Helsinki”.

Third, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin frankly discussed many issues, such as Moscow’s interference in the US Presidential Election 2016, Russia’ annexation of Crimea, the situation in East Ukraine, Syria war, the US withdrawal of Iran nuclear deal, denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, the plan to install the missile defence system in the Europe, energy market in the Europe, and the migration crisis.

Fourth, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to establish a joint working group of politicians and experts from the two sides to improve the US-Russia relations, which would help resolve differences between the two countries, seek opportunities to bring the interests to the two sides, and maintain the military-political balance in the world. After the meeting, US President Donald Trump ordered the US National Security Council to cooperate with the Russian National Security Council in discussing and proposing measures to strengthen the relations between the two countries.

Outlook for the US-Russia relations

While some American and Western politicians did not want to see the improvement in the US-Russia relations, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin wished to bring the relations to a new height for the sake of the two countries’ interests and the world’s peace and stability with a view to “making America great again” and creating a favourable condition for Russia to thrive and hold a more important role on the international agenda. Thus, the outlook for the US-Russia relations depends on the main issues as follows.

First, politically and diplomatically, it is believed that Russia and America could not walk on the same political road as they do not share the interests. Disagreements on international profiles between the two sides still exist, and neither of them makes concessions. It is most unlikely that in the future, Russia will make concessions to improve the relations with America as Russian President Vladimir Putin made it very clear in press conferences. Diplomatically, the relations between the two countries have been at the lowest level since the end of the Cold War. At the onset of the US-Russia Summit, Washington accused 12 Russian spies of interfering in the US election. Therefore, the political and diplomatic ties between Russia and America in several coming years could be deadlocked.

Second, in defence and security terms, the two countries could fall into confrontation. Policy makers all believe that this issue plays a central role in the US-Russia relations. In this regard, strategic weapons represent a thorny issue. The rivalry between Russia and America at present and between America and USSR in the past stems from the overwhelming strength of one country over the other or at least from the strategic balance based on the mutual assured destruction. Accordingly, the two sides continue to increase their defence budget. In September 2017, Washington passed massive spending for national defence in 2018 which would be about 716 billion USD. As far as Russia is concerned, since taking office, Russian President Vladimir Putin has continuously increased the defence budget. However, in 2018, Russia’s defence budget is about 2,800 billion RUB, decreasing by about 1,000 billion RUB in comparison with that in 2017. As Russia could not compete with America in terms of number of strategic weapons due to its limited defence budget, it has focused on developing key weapons to maintain its strength. To do so, Moscow has succeeded in producing and testing many modern weapons “without a rival” which have really concerned America. That concern has made the arms race between America and Russia seem endless and the US-Russia relations hardly become tranquil.

Third, in recent years, the trade cooperation between Russia and America has been very limited. Russia’s export and import turnover has accounted for only nearly 1% of that of the U.S. with other countries. In 2017, the US-Russia trade turnover was 23.2 billion USD; Russia’s export turnover to America was about 10.7 billion USD while the US export turnover to Russia was about 12.5 billion USD. Thus, in the Summit, the two sides expressed the wish to foster and bring the trade cooperation to a new height on a par with the status of the two superpowers. However, right after the meeting, America decided to impose a very high tax on steel and aluminium products – the main export ones of Russia to America. In the investment term, Russia and America remain cautious. In addition to holding a rather large number of the US bonds, Russia has made limited investments in America. Therefore, such economic cooperation and responses in the trade war between the two sides will make the US-Russia relations much more intense.

To conclude, it is hard to predict the development of the US-Russia relations when the two countries have not built a strategic trust yet. One of the two countries feels insecure about the other’s development in the future. The unreliability has been ingrained in the consciousness of generations of Russian and American people. If Russia and America could not escape the vicious circle shaped in the shadow of the Cold War, the relations between the two countries will hardly reach a turning point and steady development. Are US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin resolve enough and capable of opening up a new period for the US-Russia relations? This question is still left open.

Sr. Col. Hoang Manh Du, National Defence Academy of Vietnam

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