President Donald Trump cast his meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin as a step “towards a brighter future.”
But the global community had a different assessment: The summit in Helsinki signaled the manifestation of a new world order.
As Trump decamped from his weeklong trip to Europe, he was holding up America’s friends as its “foes” and presenting Russia, the former superpower scorned by his predecessor as a fading regional player, as significant enough to be in competition with the U.S.
Trump, during a surreal joint news conference following the meeting, showed deference to Putin by repeatedly refusing to criticize the Russian president, noting that his description of him as a “competitor” was meant purely as a compliment.
At another point, Trump stepped in to answer a pointed question directed at Putin, only days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted a dozen Russian intelligence agents for allegedly hacking the Democratic National Committee and his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton’s campaign to help Trump win the contest. Trump told reporters that while he has “great confidence” in U.S. intelligence officials, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
The president’s regard for Putin — who on Monday affirmed his preference for Trump in the 2016 election — contrasted sharply with his increasingly tough talk toward Europe, language that chips away at international order, to still unclear effect. A similar dynamic played out last month in Singapore, when Trump left flustered allies, including Canada, behind after departing the G-7 summit to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he called “tough” and “very smart.”