OPINION: NATO allies fear Trump will kick them, hug Putin | Trudy Rubin

July 06–The reasons why patriotic Americans should worry about the president’s two upcoming summits — with NATO leaders and then with Vladimir Putin — were on full view last week.

The day after July 4 — a celebration of the founding fathers’ rejection of despots — Trump again praised Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Mocking critics’ concerns about the Putin summit, Trump proclaimed at a Montana rally: “Those critics say ‘President Putin is KGB.’ You know what? Putin’s fine.”

But when it came to our democratic allies in Europe, the president couldn’t have been more scornful in Montana: “They kill us on trade. They kill us on other things. They kill us with NATO. We are the shmucks paying for the whole thing.”

In other words, as the president constantly repeats, our relationships with democratic allies are based only on money, not on shared democratic values. And the allies are cheating us badly.

Yet even as he denounces our best friends, Trump lines up with Putin on major issues that will come up at these summits. Is the president ready to align himself with Moscow and jettison our European allies?

The first signal: whether Trump mainly uses the July 12 NATO summit to air his grievances against the alliance — constantly haranguing on inadequate defense spending rather than focusing on how to confront new security challenges — including from Russia.

If Trump disses NATO just before his July 16 meeting with Putin, this will be a huge gift to the Russian leader, who wants to see NATO crumble. It will further demonstrate that Trump views the Kremlin leader as more important than our oldest allies.

Indeed, European leaders fear the NATO summit will be a miserable rerun of last month’s G-7 summit . There Trump publicly denounced Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Germany’sAngela Merkel, but urged that Putin be invited back to the group from which he was expelled for seizing Crimea.

Trump seems as eager as Putin to encourage divisions within democratic Europe. The president has denounced the European Union as “set up to take advantage of the United States” and has declared that “NATO is as bad as NAFTA.” For his part, Putin has funded anti-EU and anti-NATO political candidates and parties across Europe and used cyberwarfare to support them. (Trump has extolled some of the same candidates.)

The president appears to share Putin’s view that the world should be dominated by a few strongmen who lead the world’s major powers. I’ve heard this theme repeatedly from Russian foreign-policy experts.

“The club of powerful countries won’t look like the G-7 in the future,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Moscow journal Russia in Global Affairs. “A configuration of big world powers will emerge in years to come, China, the United States, Russia, India maybe. There are a lot of questions about what will happen with Europe, will it be united or separate.” But, Lukyanov added, “the collective West won’t survive in the same fashion.”

At the NATO summit, we’ll see whether Trump will work to maintain the “collective West” or even grasps its importance. Or whether he prefers to hasten its demise in favor of a club of great powers he thinks he can control.

The second signal, even before Trump meets Putin, will be his position on Ukraine. This issue greatly concerns most of our NATO partners. The Russian leader’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 — and his continuing support of proxy “rebels” in eastern Ukraine — marks the first time Europe’s boundaries have been changed by force since World War II.

When recently asked whether he would accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Trump said vaguely: “We’re going to have to see.” At the G-7, he reportedly told participants that Crimea was Russian because the population spoke Russian. By that standard, Russia could annex huge chunks of Latvia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, the Caucusus, or even Berlin.

Trump can’t unilaterally lift congressional — or European — sanctions over Crimea. But his loose lips could undermine the firm NATO stance on the issue, and signal he is ready to recognize the annexation, along with Putin’s control of eastern Ukraine.

The third signal will be how Trump deals with Putin’s meddling in Western elections at the summits. Europeans care deeply about this issue, and have pushed back against Kremlin intrusions.

Yet Trump continues to echo the position he took back in 2017, when he insisted “Every time [Putin] sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that [meddle in elections].’ I think he is very insulted by it.” Just a few days ago the president repeated Putin’s disclaimer.

> READ MORE: Trump thinks his personal relationships with dictators will save the world. He’s wrong — Trudy Rubin

If the president swallows Putin’s line on hacking, why wouldn’t he accept Kremlin lies on eastern Ukraine, and on every other security issue from Syria to nuclear arms treaties? We’ll soon see whether Trump intends to become a willing accomplice to Putin, and help the Russian’s efforts to dismantle the “collective West.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.