President Donald Trump will have his first face-to-face meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during this week’s G-20 Summit. The chance to establish a personal relationship could pay dividends in a crisis, which is increasingly possible due to Putin’s irresponsible provocations.
But policy, not personal engagement, should be the focus at this meeting. Once the photo-op ends, Trump should directly confront Russia’s leader on numerous issues of international security.
Foremost — and forcefully — Trump should tell Putin that he accepts the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agency reports on the extent of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump should unequivocally declare that this was a direct attack on the U.S. by a hostile government — even if by design the tampering helped elect Trump. Any attempt to repeat the interference in the 2018 midterm or 2010 presidential elections, Trump should add, will be met with severe diplomatic consequences.
Trump must also not promise to return Russian compounds in the U.S. seized due to its meddling.
Trump should vow to support NATO nations that are similarly targeted, and he could emulate new French President Emmanuel Macron’s resolute response on Russia’s election interference and damaging propaganda. Germany, site of the summit, is likely the next target in advance of its September election, and Trump should say the U.S. will not be a bystander if Moscow tries to intervene.
Trump should also side with senators who recently voted 97-2 to retain sanctions on Russia for its election interference, annexation of Crimea and deadly destabilization of eastern Ukraine, attacks that abrogated a post-Soviet accord that exchanged Ukraine’s nuclear weapons for guarantees on its territorial sovereignty.
Growing global proliferation concerns, especially regarding North Korea, mean that Russia must be held accountable. And Trump should let Putin know that the world expects Russia to be a constructive force in the effort to curb Pyongyang’s threat to global stability.
Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime — likely guilty of war crimes — should be a top topic, too. While Trump should not make any pledges of Assad’s removal that he does not intend to back up, neither should he give Putin the indication that the world accepts Russia’s support for Assad. Meanwhile, both presidents should push to de-conflict their forces in Syria, lest a military miscalculation result in a direct U.S.-Russia clash.
Finally, Trump should do what so many of his presidential predecessors did: Push Russia on its abysmal human-rights record, both at home and in its support for undemocratic allies around the world. Trump’s previous support for torture and his bashing of the press (literally in the sickening “CNN wrestling” video he foolishly retweeted on Sunday) limit his credibility on this matter, but Trump should still try to live up to his office.
Questions about Trump’s relationship to Russia continue to dog his presidency. Failure to press Putin would only amplify them.