Friday July 24, 2020
There was a time when President Trump’s personalised diplomacy seemed a hydra-headed phenomenon with tentacles reaching far and wide. He engaged such diverse politicians — from Shinzo Abe and Kim Jong-Un to Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi, from Mohammed bin Salman and Recep Erdogan to Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel. But as time passed, the circle began shrinking and the scope for personalised diplomacy altogether diminished as coronavirus epidemic spread and countries turned inward, including the US.
Today, Trump is left largely with Putin’s company – although they have had only one formal summit in Helsinki on July 16, 2018 – to whom he keeps going back with an extraordinary frequency. Trump and Putin have held at least seven calls since March 30, amid the coronavirus pandemic. On July 23, Trump again spoke with Putin. He hasn’t spoken to any other foreign politician so frequently this year. And the paradox is that while Trump is famous for his pursuit of transactional relationships, there is very little transaction taking place between the US and Russia.
The Kremlin often describes these Putin-Trump phone conversations as “constructive and substantive,” although we hardly see any concrete results. The two leaders strove to create and atmospherics but failed to create content in the relationship — foreplay without consummation. The leading think tanker at Moscow Carnegie and author, Dmitry Trenin tweeted after yesterday’s Putin-Trump conversation that they “appear as a parallel universe with no connection to real Russia-US relations. Weird.”