On Tuesday afternoon, after President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had their third phone call in about as many months, news emerged that the two leaders would finally meet this summer. For those tracking the Trump-Putin dance, it might seem just another date in a long love affair.
The reality, however, looks far bleaker for Putin.
Consider this: After three phone calls and an infinite amount of hope for a Trump-Putin detente dashed against the rocks of American politics, all that Trump and Putin could agree on, according to the readouts provided from each side, was that the war in Syria is bad and that maybe a personal meeting this summer would be good. But even that part about the meeting, it turned out, was just in the Kremlin’s account of the presidential phone call. The White House made no mention of any agreement to meet. And even the Kremlin left room for uncertainty. After a description of “a whole range of timely questions of cooperation between the two countries on the world stage”—which, according to the Kremlin readout, were Syria, and Russia’s perennial, cynically used favorite, counterterrorism—“Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump spoke in favor of continuing contact by telephone, as well as in favor of organizing a personal meeting alongside the G20 Summit in Hamburg on July 7-8.” Which, given the White House’s silence on the meeting, sounds a lot less like a continuing bromance and a lot more like, “Call me” and “See you around.”