The informal meeting between President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vietnam has many wondering what is next for the United States and Russia.
On Saturday, both President Trump and the Kremlin made statements regarding future collaboration between the two nations. In short, it appears Trump would like to move past the allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 election and focus on more immediate issues, like Syria and North Korea.
The United States and Russia have common interests: resolving the civil war in Syria and derailing Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. Both leaders seem to believe that they must focus on the future, instead of dwelling on the past.
Putin Denies Election Meddling, Trump Believes Him
On Saturday, President Trump stated that he once again asked Putin about Russia’s alleged attempt to interfere in the 2016 election. Unsurprisingly, the Russian president denied the accusations.
“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters. “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.
Putin’s denials were not unexpected, however this time, Trump seemed to believe him. “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” he said.
Of course, Putin’s denials are a direct contradiction to the findings of the intelligence community who claim to have evidence that Russian operatives hacked the Democratic National Committee and leaked emails to WikiLeaks. C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo has reaffirmed the claims of the intelligence community.
Mike Pompeo Stands By The Intelligence Community’s Findings
Pompeo also made statements on Saturday, saying that he “stands by” the intelligence community’s report stating that Russia conducted an “influence campaign” designed to help President Trump win the election. A C.I.A. spokesperson told The Hill:
“The Director stands by and has always stood by the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment entitled: Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections. The intelligence assessment in regards to Russian election meddling has not changed.”
Trump has previously expressed skepticism regarding the intelligence community’s report on Russian meddling, as have others. In September, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange offered to provide evidence that the Russians did not meddle in last year’s election in exchange for a pardon. The Trump administration has yet to respond.
What’s Trump’s Desired Outcome With Putin?
So what is President Trump hoping to achieve with Russia? I think we can find a clue in his statements about his face-to-face meeting with Putin. Trumps insistence that the accusations against Russia are “damaging for our country,” might be an indication that he wishes to put the alleged election interference behind him and look to the future.
During their conversations together at the APEC summit, the two leaders discussed Syria and ISIS. Later, they released a joint statement announcing that they will continue to work together in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria until they are destroyed.
Earlier this week, it was reported that the U.S. and Russia were close to completing an agreement detailing how the two nations would approach the Syrian civil war after defeating ISIS. According to The Washington Post, the agreement will focus on three factors, “deconfliction” between the U.S. and Russian armed forces, decreasing violence in the country, and restarting U.N. – led peace talks.
How To Proceed With Russia
While President Trump has not outright stated that he believes Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election, he hasn’t exactly affirmed it either. Currently, it seems he is trying to improve relations between the Washington and Moscow while not directly contradicting the intelligence community.
It might be a hard pill to swallow, but if Trump wants Russia’s help in stabilizing Syria and dealing with North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, it might be wise to put the election interference behind us for now. Putin will never admit to meddling in our election, and at this rate, the American public may never see actual evidence proving the intelligence community’s claims.
Either way, we have already punished the Kremlin by levying aggressive sanctions against key members of the Russian government. The best we can do is put measures in place that will prevent other nations from having an impact on our elections.
Even after ISIS is destroyed, the Syrian civil war will still pose a problem for the rest of the world. Other factions are still heavily engaged in violence that have not shown any signs of abating. After the Islamic State is ousted, the United States and Russia will need to focus on ending the war, which has raged since 2011.
The reality is that we cannot solve this problem unless both of our nations are willing to work together, so for the time being, it might be smart for Trump to put the allegations of election meddling behind him so he can focus on dealing with more pressing matters. After all, we can still count on the left and the establishment media to keep obsessing over the 2016 election, right?