President Trump prepared for his first meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, Finland. Those who had negotiated with Putin were quick to caution Trump that he should be ready for this well-prepared adversary and that he should be on guard.
A shrewd, well-prepared adversary.
Elected again in 2012, Putin has actually outlasted three U.S presidents. He has been known to shift his persona but never his demands in countless phone calls and summit meetings.
A Clinton-Putin Meeting
Bill Clinton has met Putin over a dinner of a spicy wild boar at the presidential palace. However not much came out of the meeting and relations between the two countries did not improve.
A George W. Bush- Putin Meeting
George W. Bush actually looked into Putin’s eyes during a meeting in order to “get a sense of his soul.” Although he and Bush developed an initial rapport, their relations soured amid the Bush administration’s war on terror and Russia’s conflict in neighboring Georgia.
After their first meeting in 2001, Bush proclaimed Putin “very straightforward and trustworthy.” That assessment has since been widely ridiculed, but Thomas E. Graham, who served as Russia director at the National Security Council under Bush, said critics leave out the rest of Bush’s assessment that Putin was “a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country.”
“That turned out to be true,” Graham said. Putin “knew what he wanted; he had messages he wanted to convey.”
An Obama-Putin Meeting
Barack Obama pursued a “reset” of a troubled relationship. Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, recalled Obama’s first meeting with Putin in 2009, also at Putin’s private residence. The Americans wanted the three-hour session, over tea, to be more than an icebreaker, viewing it as the opening bid in an “ambitious play” to reset relations.
Although Dmitry Medvedev was president and Obama met separately with him, U.S. officials thought at the time that Putin continued to wield significant influence — and later came to conclude that Putin remained in charge.
Along Came Trump
All three presidents failed to forge a personal bond with Putin and in fact, the relations between the two countries took a turn for the worst.
Then came Trump, who since his campaign days for the U.S presidency could be heard calling Putin a stronger leader than Obama.
Tainted By FBI Investigation
Trump and Putin looked forward to the meeting today but it was tainted by an FBI investigation into the ties between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives who allegedly meddled in the U.S election to help Trump secure a win. The meeting was watched closely and before the meeting happened. Jon Finer a former chief of staff said that it is important for Trump to draw “clear lines about American interests and then find common ground if there is any. Part of why going in without an agenda is so dangerous — you could end up having the entire conversation on his topics and his terms."
About Finer Finer had this to say, “There’s a sense that personalities matter, but at the end of the day, he’s someone who has a strong sense of what Russian interests should be, and he’s not going to deviate from that.”
The people who have met Putin describe him as a direct and forceful negotiator who wields great power within the Kremlin.
Skeptical Of The Americans
Putin was skeptical of the Americans. He told them he had tried to work with Bush, but then launched into a litany of complaints about how the United States had foiled efforts to cooperate on counter-terrorism and on the folly of the Iraq invasion, McFaul recalled.
Putin, a former KGB officer, blamed the setbacks on U.S. intelligence agencies.“He blamed the ‘deep state’ for thwarting efforts to cooperate,” McFaul said. “He went through a series of vignettes over eight years with Bush: ‘We did this, got close on this, yet it was your side that screwed it all up.’ ”
Smaller Meetings, Fewer Aides, Fewer Leaks
The Russian leader prefers smaller meetings, with fewer aides, which he thinks will result in fewer leaks, U.S. officials said. On one visit to Moscow by Kerry, there were so few officials permitted that the U.S. delegation asked ambassador John F. Tefft to serve as the official translator.
Keeps Them Waiting
That’s not Putin’s only power play. While Trump is known to use forceful presidential handshakes to show dominance, Putin’s strategy is more subtle. He was 40 minutes late for a meeting with Obama at the G-20 Summit in Mexico in 2012 and kept Kerry waiting for three hours in Moscow in 2013.
“Our staff was really upset,” one former Obama aide recalled. “The president was like, ‘Who cares?’ It’s only a dis and a power play if you allow it.”
At the meeting with Trump earlier today, Putin kept Trump waiting for an hour before showing up.
Yet for a macho leader who has been photographed riding a horse shirtless and drilling for oil, Putin’s demeanor in person is remarkably calm and composed, U.S. officials said.
Those who meet Putin are often surprised that his tone is “mild-mannered and soft-spoken,” Finer said. A famous photo of Obama and Putin looking uncomfortable during a 2013 meeting in Northern Ireland was interpreted as a sign of their mutual disdain.
But Finer said the Russian leader’s “body language tends to be slouched, looking down as if there are notes in front of him. He will then make eye contact for emphasis. I got the impression of someone who is supremely confident, relaxed, not super-animated. That’s not to say the content of his words is relaxed or soft in any way. He can deliver quite hard messages.”
Grievances over U.S. Actions
Putin has developed a long list of grievances over U.S. actions, which he often recites to start meetings, former Obama aides said. Many have to do with visa delays for Russian officials or the treatment of Russian diplomats who are not granted meetings — a grievance U.S. officials found disingenuous, given that American diplomats are routinely harassed and intimidated in Moscow.
Obama aides said they tried to funnel Putin’s complaints into a “separate channel” to be handled by lower-level aides while attempting to steer him back to geostrategic matters such as Ukraine, Syria and the Iran nuclear deal.
Those topics got him even more animated, however. Obama’s relations with Putin took a downward turn in 2014 when the United States and European allies imposed economic sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. In meetings, Putin would refer to “Ukrainian fascists,” former Obama aides said.
The Russian leader is typically the only person on his side of the table who speaks, the former aides said. He seldom delegates authority, and he has a solid command of the issues, especially energy, where he recites facts and figures.
Although he only recently learned English, Putin has been known to correct a translator, the officials said. As he speaks, he scans for reactions, looking for signs of division, and he considers it a sign of weakness if another world leader is cut off, or corrected, by a lower-ranking aide.
Trolling His Rivals
Putin also has a penchant for trolling his rivals. During a meeting with Kerry in 2016, Putin mocked him for carrying his own luggage off the plane, suggesting that it was a cash bribe to work out disagreements over Syria. In 2007, Putin brought his black Labrador to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is scared of dogs.
In 2015, after a three-hour negotiating session with Kerry over Syria and Ukraine, Putin invited the U.S. delegation to a cocktail reception.
Regarding that formal meeting with Putin, Wendy Sherman, former undersecretary of state who was in attendance, said the U.S. delegation “came away thinking there might be some openings. But none of those really materialized.”
She added: “This was a leader who was sure about what he was about and didn’t need to bluster or pretend or try to impress.”
Little Regard For Facts
Another major frustration for the Americans was that Putin did not always have a high regard for facts. Antony Blinken, a former high-ranking aide to both Obama and Biden, recalled several Oval Office calls during which Obama tried to find common ground with Putin on Ukraine.
“It got to the point where he would be claiming there were no Russians in Ukraine,” Blinken recalled. “And Obama would say to him, ‘Vladimir, we can see things. We have eyes. We know it’s not true.’ He would just move on.”
Trump, too, has developed a reputation for ignoring facts in favor of bluster and bullying.“You have two of the most powerful leaders with the most adversarial relationships with the truth,” Blinken said. “Trump does things in a theatrical way. Putin is the antithesis of that. But the objective is the same: Whatever advances the ends you’re trying to achieve, it’s fine.”
As seen Putin is a very tough negotiator who will not cave into demands by another nation unless they were in the best interests of his nation. The meeting with Trump was magnificent according to the Russian side, but there was a backlash on the American side because they were displeased with Trump's comments during the summit which seem to indicate that he trusted Putin more than his own intelligence operators.