When the US and Russian presidents shake hands in Helsinki on July 16, the travelling press corps will hang on very rumor, word, and gesture, and your Signal authors will pop up some popcorn.
Trump will surely feed the frenzy. He’ll say Crimea is rightfully Russian or repeat that Russia should rejoin the G7. He’ll drop jaws with a comment disparaging NATO. Or Ukraine. Or both. Putin will flash that tight smile that says, “I know a great joke, but you wouldn’t think it’s funny.” And as with Trump’s Singapore sit-down with Kim Jong-un, the real result will be less than meets the eye.
The US government maintains sanctions on Russia and support for Ukraine because the Pentagon and a bipartisan majority in Congress don’t share Trump’s urge to give Putin a hug. Congress has power to keep sanctions in place whatever the president says publicly, and Republican lawmakers know that new sanctions can be added in coming months without an embarrassing public fight with the White House.
Defense Secretary James Mattis will move forward with his plan to reinforce NATO troops in Poland and the Baltic states with a new NATO force of 30 land battalions, 30 aircraft squadrons and 30 warships that can deployed within 30 days.
Trump and Putin will each declare victory, but very little will change in relations between Washington and Moscow.