Is There More To The Russian Story?

Under fire from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, Donald Trump bitterly abandoned his plan to hold the next summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations at one of his Florida resorts. But he has another idea for the meeting that he has not given up: inviting Vladimir Putin.

It’s one of those Trump ideas that address no obvious need and would yield no likely benefit. It’s also one that pits him against most of the other members of the G-7. At the August gathering in Biarritz, France, the president insisted on pressing the issue: “I think it would be better to have Russia inside the tent than outside the tent.”.

Trump says Russia was ejected from what was then the G-8 because Putin “outsmarted” Barack Obama and Obama wanted retribution. As with so many matters on which Trump comments, it’s not clear whether that statement stems from ignorance or mendacity. In either case, it’s false.

The members expelled Russia for its 2014 invasion of Ukraine and seizure of Crimea. “International law prohibits the acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force,” they said in a joint statement. They also canceled a planned summit in Sochi, Russia.

Russia has yet to repent. But Trump thinks that should not be a reason for its exclusion because “a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.” Of course, the same could be said of China, whose economy is eight times bigger than Russia’s. But Trump doesn’t feel the same love for Chinese President Xi Jinping that he does for Putin.

When Obama was caught on an open mic telling then-President Dmitry Medvedev he would have “more flexibility” on missile defense after the 2012 election, Republicans reacted as though he had turned over our nuclear codes. But Trump has been more pliant than boiled linguine.

Habitually resentful of our involvement in NATO, Trump has raised the possibility of leaving it. That’s not necessarily a bad idea. But the pattern of Trump’s policies suggests it would be motivated more by what Putin wants than by what serves our strategic interests.

His deference to the Kremlin is one of the most reliable indicators of what Trump will do on any given issue. It played a big part in his attempt to extort political favors from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Reported The Washington Post: “Trump turned to Putin for guidance on the new leader of Ukraine within days of Zelensky’s election. In a May 3 call, Trump asked Putin about his impressions of Zelensky, according to a Western official familiar with the conversation. Putin said that he had not yet spoken with Zelensky but derided him as a comedian with ties to an oligarch despised by the Kremlin.”

It was entirely in Putin’s interest for Trump to withhold security aid that Ukraine needed to fight Russian-backed separatists. Why was Trump so keen to get Zelensky to provide support for his baseless theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election to help Democrats? Because it would distract from the Kremlin’s documented efforts to help Trump win the presidency.

Then there was his surprise decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria and abandon our Kurdish allies — over the objections of not only Democrats but most Republicans in Congress. Trump’s reversal of his own policy makes perfect sense as a favor to Putin, the chief patron of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Trump has always behaved as though it’s his duty to accommodate Putin, rather than the other way around. On occasion, he proves himself more Catholic than the pope. When Putin was asked in August about the possibility of rejoining the group, he mocked the idea. “How can I come back into an organization that doesn’t exist?” he asked. “It’s the G-7, not the G-8.”

But even if Putin wouldn’t attend next year’s summit if invited by host Trump, he could hardly fail to relish Trump’s eagerness to abase himself for the Kremlin’s benefit. Pleasing Putin is a desire that Trump can’t seem to suppress, for reasons that are a perpetual mystery.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats met with the president at the White House recently, and he grew angry when she said, “All roads with you lead to Putin.” That line stung because it happens to be true.

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.