‘Puffball summit’ is ‘easy win for Putin,’ Clark professor says

By Telegram & Gazette

July 17–President Donald Trump’s summit Monday in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to be “very much the puffball summit,” says a Clark University professor who has written about the 18-year Russian leader.

After watching the press conference by both men in the aftermath of the summit, professor Valerie Sperling called the meeting “an easy win for Putin” because, she said, it was evident President Trump didn’t seriously challenge him on key issues such as the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, as cited by U.S. intelligence.

Ms. Sperling, who wrote “Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia,” published in 2015, said: “According to what we’ve heard, Trump did not challenge him on human rights, Trump did not challenge him on freedom of expression, Trump did not challenge him on LGBT rights, or the war on Ukraine, corruption, and apparently, on the annexation of Crimea.”

Trump told reporters after the summit that Putin powerfully denied that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, when Trump defeated Hillary Clinton.

The Clark professor called it “emblematic of the problem of Trump’s presidency, in that he repeatedly and very consistently does not appear to understand that his words matter.” She said asking Putin about the interference was akin to asking a 5-year-old covered in cookie crumbs if he had eaten a cookie before dinner.

“We’re not watching a U.S. president, as such,” Ms. Sperling said. “He’s a reality TV star who is still acting as though he’s on a set providing entertainment,” she said, alluding to Mr. Trump’s time on the NBC series “The Apprentice.”

When Trump was asked if he believed Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump didn’t answer directly. He said he saw no reason to think Russia would have interfered.

“It’s a meaningless thing to say,” Ms. Sperling said, because, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, there was “plenty of evidence” Russia intervened.

She went on to suggest that Trump’s reaction was “highly consequential because it sends the message that, the way you get to the bottom of things is by asking your adversary to tell you the truth and assuming whatever the adversary says is what you should believe.”

Ms. Sperling predicted there will be two responses to the summit. Supporters of Trump will paint it as a brilliant job patching up relations with Russia that were weakened by President Barack Obama. She called it a nonsensical analysis.

Trump critics, she said, would continue to assert that Trump is beholden and submissive to Putin.

It was suggested to Ms. Sperling that she’s an obvious critic of Trump. She clarified that she’s critical of both leaders.

“I’m afraid that, like Putin, Trump has been undermining democracy at home in multiple ways: by threatening to jail his presidential opponent, by demeaning the reputable press as fake news, by calling a legitimate and obviously necessary investigation into election interference a witch hunt. He has also alienated democratic allies in Europe while making every effort to legitimate and enhance the international reputation of a dictator like Kim Jong-un.”

Meanwhile, “in Putin’s Russia,” she said, “we’ve seen a deterioration of democracy, from the “restriction of freedom of the press, expression, and assembly, to the ongoing assassination of journalists and critics of Putin.”

This article provided by NewsEdge.