Amid pandemic and unrest, U.S. President Donald Trump wants to reward Vladimir Putin with G-7 membership and a visit to Washington.
With attention focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the national unrest following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several recent statements by President Trump concerning the G-7 meeting have gone largely unnoticed, David J. Kramer, Director of European and Eurasian Studies and Senior Fellow in the Vaclav Havel Program on Human Rights and Diplomacy at Florida International University's Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs wrote in his piece on The American Interest.
First, Trump decided he would host the gathering in person at the end of June in Washington, despite concerns over coronavirus, until German Chancellor Angela Merkel balked at attending and forced Trump to postpone the meeting to September. More disturbingly, Trump indicated his intention to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend. This is an outrageous idea, and Putin's invitation should be rescinded immediately, the author believes.
The idea of inviting Putin to the United States follows a number of recent conversations between Trump and the Russian leader as well as shipments of medical assistance to and from Russia. It comes on the heels of recent comments by Trump in which he said, "Russia and us have developed a very good relationship. As you know, we worked on the oil problem together." It is one thing to help Russians during a time of crisis, even one exacerbated by inept leadership from the Kremlin. Along with the United States and Brazil, Russia ranks among the top three countries with the highest number of COVID-19 cases; many observers and experts believe Russian authorities are grossly undercounting the number of deaths due to the virus. But it is another thing entirely to make nice with Putin by inviting him to Washington, the article says.
Putin has done nothing to deserve kid-gloves treatment, the author says. On the contrary, Russia's leader has continued to engage in reckless behavior that poses a direct threat to American national interests. The explosion of COVID-19 cases in Russia has not slowed Putin’s hostile actions; he may even assume Western leaders are too distracted by the pandemic to respond to his provocations. Putin must be contained and confronted, not offered an open hand and an invitation to the States.
Kramer recalls that Putin continues his aggression against Ukraine and refuses to comply with any obligations under the 2015 Minsk Agreement calling on Russia to withdraw its forces from Ukraine's Donbas territory. Putin has been clear that Russia will not return the Crimean peninsula to Ukrainian control, after Moscow illegally annexed it in 2014. More than 14,000 Ukrainians have been killed in this war – it's not a frozen conflict – and some 2 million have been displaced.
In Georgia, Russian forces have moved the demarcation line from the 2008 ceasefire agreement following Russia’s invasion of that country deeper into Georgian-controlled territory. For a dozen years, Russia has occupied 20% of Georgian land and paid no price for doing so. Russian intimidation continues toward other neighboring states, too, especially Belarus. Energy cutoffs and pressure to host military bases are common tactics used by the Kremlin to get its way in the region.
Russia has been trying to lure Turkey, which maintains the second-largest military in the NATO alliance, into its orbit and is stirring up anti-Western sentiment in the Western Balkans – and even tried to launch a coup in Montenegro in 2016. Putin's military intervention in Syria, which has included war crimes, kept the murderous Bashar al-Assad in power.
Most recently, Putin has sent mercenary forces to Libya in support of rebel General Khalifa Haftar's efforts to overthrow the recognized government in Tripoli, and the Pentagon has accused Russia of sending warplanes to tip the balance in favor of Haftar.
An invitation to Putin to Washington should spark outrage on Capitol Hill, the author suggests. A trip to the United States could be a boost to Putin and lend him international legitimacy at a time when his own ratings inside Russia are reaching record lows. It would demoralize Ukrainians who would conclude that Trump is writing them off. It would signal that the leader responsible for interference in the 2016 election and likely again this year is welcome on U.S. soil. Fellow G-7 leaders should boycott such a meeting if their Russian counterpart is there. Thankfully, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have already pledged to do so.