Could President Trump's European Visit Benefit Putin?

Jul 13, 2018
Originally published on July 13, 2018 7:44 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Just three days before President Trump is scheduled to meet face to face with Russian president Vladimir Putin, the Justice Department has dropped a bombshell. It's announced charges against 12 Russian military officers. They're accused of hacking Democratic Party computers during the 2016 presidential election. This is one of many developments this week that raise the stakes for President Trump come Monday.

Earlier today, I spoke with former ambassador Daniel Fried. He had a long career at the State Department, where he helped craft sanctions against Russia during the Obama administration. I asked him first how he thought this indictment would affect the meeting between Putin and Trump.

DANIEL FRIED: It's a useful reminder that in fact the Russians are not our friends, and Putin is not, as the president called him, fine. He's not fine. He's not even a competitor. He's an adversary with a deep, principled contempt for and loathing of the United States and everything we stand for.

CHANG: Even before this indictment was announced today, there has been some expectation that Trump would address the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election. I'm curious. How would you - if you were still an adviser to the White House, how would you advise the president to bring up that issue in this meeting?

FRIED: There's no point in debating with Putin about whether the Russians did or did not interfere in our elections. Putin will deny it, and he will deny it for (laughter) as long as it takes. He'll just run out the clock. The best message for Putin from our president is this - I don't care what you say you did before, but I don't want anything like this to happen again. I don't want my intel people, I don't want my Homeland Security people telling me that your trolls, your hackers, your GRU military intelligence operatives are in our elections. And by the way, stay out of Europe's elections.

CHANG: Do you have any confidence that Trump would follow a script like that?

FRIED: No. I have not heard President Trump ever be strong and stand up and push back against Russian aggression or against Vladimir Putin. Now, to be fair to this administration, some of their actual actions on the ground to resist Russian aggression have been pretty good. They've been continuations and sometimes extensions of what the Obama administration did. So full credit to the team of professionals in the Trump administration that are doing their best, and it's often pretty good. The problem is the president doesn't seem to be on the same page as his own administration.

CHANG: President Trump has barreled through this week, flinging criticism at European allies during the NATO summit, during his interview with the Sun in the U.K. How might the discord he's caused during this entire European trip play into next Monday's meeting with Putin, you think?

FRIED: Here's the danger. The administration argues that President Trump was putting pressure on the allies to get a better deal for the United States in NATO to improve the alliance. That's one way to look at it. And let's be fair. The president is right to push the European allies, including Germany, to spend more on the military. He's got a point.

CHANG: OK.

FRIED: The trouble is the acrimony that creates produces the impression not that the president is trying to strengthen the Western alliance, but that he's trying to wreck it - that disruption, which the president was elected to do, in a sense, can become destruction, that the president's - goes to Putin not from a position of strength, but with a divided alliance behind him, with chaos surrounding him, and then meets Putin, who's a master at producing a litany of grievance, a narrative designed to put us on the defensive, and that the president will then slip, say something he shouldn't.

And we will end the week much worse off than we need to.

CHANG: Ambassador Daniel Fried is now a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council. Ambassador, thank you very much.

FRIED: My pleasure.

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