Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and US President Donald J. Trump met in Helsinki on July 16, 2018. The meeting was not a dialogue. Putin spoke for an hour, not letting Trump get a word in edgeways and putting Trump on the defensive. No staff or note-takers were present. Neither Putin nor Trump want a record of Putin’s demands – and threats.
Putin: We have secrets that would discredit you and destroy your presidency.
You laundered Russian money in the 1990s. Russian oligarchs bailed out the Trump organization, saving it from bankrupcy. We gave you cash to acquire trophy properties, golf courses in Scotland and Wales. My oligarch friends put up $100 million to bankroll the Trump Tower Toronto. When you needed cash, I arranged for an oligarch to buy your Palm Beach property for $95 million, more than twice what you paid just a couple of years before. A majority of Trump Soho apartments were bought by Russians.
Do you want these investments to stay secret? Then control your stupid sons. Donald Jr. told a journalist: "We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia" His comment isn’t helpful when we’re trying to whitewash the money trail.
Russia’s Military Intelligence Agency (GRU) has information about your family and campaign staff who coordinated hacking, as well as the strategic release of emails that were defamatory of Hillary Clinton. Do you really think anyone will believe you didn’t know? This file will cast doubt on the legitimacy of your election and could lead to your impeachment.
Russia undertook the largest hybrid warfare campaign in history to undermine US elections and western liberal democracies. We’ll do it again in 2018 to make sure the Democrats don’t win control of Congress.
(Putin laughs) And of course I have the sex tape, but it’s irrelevant. It only proves one thing. You like girls, despite your small hands and limited capacity.
Trump: What can I do for you?
Putin: Continue bashing NATO. We’re planning hybrid operations against Estonia and Montenegro, and don’t want Chapter 5 to get in the way. Your predecessors promised that NATO would not expand into Russia’s sphere of influence. They lied. You fix it.
Trump: Of course, Vladimir. NATO is a deadbeat organization anyhow. Its members don’t pay their dues. They owe billions of dollars to the United States. Either we collect or NATO goes away.
Putin: The EU is also a thorn in our side. Russia’s information campaign successfully turned British voters against the EU, resulting in Brexit. We’ve successfully supported authoritarian populists in Italy, Austria, Hungary, and elsewhere. I want you to marginalize Merkel. Our mutual interests will be served if the far right makes inroads in Germany.
Trump: Germany’s trade practices really piss me off. I hate seeing BMWs on American highways.
Putin: It’s time for the US to legally recognize that Crimea is part of the Russian Federation. The people of Crimea asked us to intervene and then held a referendum to formalize Russia’s annexation. Comrade Kruschev’s decision to give Crime to Ukraine was an historical injustice. The Soviet Union’s collapse was the most tragic event of the 20th century.
Trump: The State Department says that the US will never recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Ignore Mike Pompeo; he’s out of the loop.
Putin: (cutting him off): And tell the Congress to stop sending weapons to Ukraine and lift those damn sanctions against my country. There is no reason for Russia to be punished for restoring her rights in the near abroad.
Trump: Those congressmen have half a brain between them. Don’t worry; I’ll whip them into shape.
Putin: You know Syria is a strategic priority for Russia. Our military facilities in Latakia and Tartus allow Russia to project force in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. We will expand our bases in Syria, Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine. Frozen conflicts are good for Russia. We can manipulate weak states.
Trump: Can you remove Iran’s presence in Syria? It threatens our Israeli friends.
Putin: Iran is our strategic partner in Syria. About 80,000 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Shiite militias, and Hezbollah are foot soldiers there. We tolerate Iran’s corridor that supplies missiles to Hezbollah and Hamas. What difference can a few missiles make when Israel has the iron dome air defense system? Besides, we’ve assured Bibi Netanyahu that we won’t let Iran get out of control. A managed conflict also serves Bibi’s interests.
Enough talk about war crimes and chemical weapons. And please withdraw support for those pesky pro-western Kurds. We allow Turkey to kill them. No matter what Mattis says, the US should turn a blind eye.
Trump: We don’t need the Kurds anymore. I have no qualms about throwing them under the bus.
Putin: (Harangues Trump some more. Reminds him that he is indebted to Russia and should show his appreciation. Then provides guidelines for the pending press conference). We’ve been together for more than two hours. Now let’s go meet the press. I’ll speak first. Say nothing about our agreements. It’s good we met alone so no one will know.
Trump: Can I say you’re invited to Washington in the Fall?
Putin: Not now; let’s see about that.
Trump: Yes, Sir. You are always welcome. America is at your service.
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert to the State Department under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.