Winning the Helsinki Cup is harder than winning the World Cup. Here, maneuverability is not enough. No quick passes. Nor corner strikes. There is a heavy weight on the summit table: your military weight, the strength of your economy, your technological progress, your alliances, and your ability to move and employ your papers.
Winning the World Cup depends largely on the ability of the team to provide an integrated performance of its members, despite the importance of its stars and their goals. The duel here is between two men; one can say that it is between two big boxers. The Russian president is stronger than the institutions of his country, which he established to suit his project. The US president came from outside the dictionary that gave birth to his predecessors, so the institutions try to adjust to his surprises and adapt to them.
There’s no exaggeration when saying that Helsinki hosts today a meeting between two strong men. Vladimir Putin changed the position of Russia as it emerged from the Soviet rubble. He also changed its image and led a process of revenge against a wide range of forces which he accuses of seeking to humiliate and enclose his country.
In his attempt to play the deep soul, he sought to awaken the greatness of Russia, which had deteriorated under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. His program is “Russia First”. On the other side, Donald Trump moves to restore America’s greatness by raising the slogan of “America First.”
Two very different men, who have drunk from contradictory springs… Putin came from the KGB. His real mentor was Yuri Andropov, former head of the apparatus and leader of the Soviet Union as well. He came from the world of secrets, intrigues and mysterious blows that leave no mark. He carries a deep wound as he considers that the fall of the Soviet Union was the greatest geo-strategic disaster of the twentieth century. Trump came from the business world, real estate opportunities and reality TV. He also accuses his predecessors, especially Barack Obama, of wasting America’s greatness and rights in dealing with its adversaries as well as its allies.
It is clear that Putin considers the summit to be a win after his strikes in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria, as well as the mysterious strikes on British soil.
He sees it as a success that undermines US and European sanctions on his country. He already excelled in completing his papers ahead of the meeting. He managed to twist the equation on the Syrian territory and removed the fate of Bashar al-Assad from any discussion. One can say that he put the world and the people of the region in front of an explicit choice: either Russia’s Syria or Iran’s Syria. Iran’s Syria is rejected at both the regional and international levels. It is in fact the perfect recipe for lengthy wars. He played brilliantly and tricked his traditional rivals and new partners. The “de-escalation zones” looked ridiculous.
That is why Recep Tayyip Erdogan feels that Putin has deceived him with these games just like he misled Obama on the night of the Syrian chemical arrest. He topped his papers with a successful organization of the World Cup, which reminded him that Western anger over his regime did not necessarily mean that Russia was threatened with isolation.
Timing is quite appropriate. Europe is burdened with the tragedies of immigrants, and Brexit has reflected the fragility of the European and Atlantic house.
Before Helsinki, Trump made major and difficult decisions. He left the nuclear agreement with Iran despite international and European pleas. He shook hands with the North Korean dictator. He has speculated that tough sanctions would prompt Iran to come again in search of a deal that will end this time not only its nuclear ambitions but also its ballistic program and destabilization policy.
On his way, Trump broke the norms and protocols in dealing with the G-20 and the European Union. He harshly attacked Atlantic leaders for their reluctance to raise their military spending. The protocol was also among his victims when he met with the Queen of England, who has traditionally given utmost attention to detail.
There is no justification for exaggerating and believing that today will determine the fate of maps and their peoples. We are not in the world of the American and Soviet camps. It is not enough for the two men to agree so that everyone keeps silence and obeys. A strong man is absent. It is the Chinese president, who takes seriously the decisions of Trump and the signals of a commercial war. Mao’s heir is America’s real rival in the next stage. Russia’s position on Syrian soil does not negate the fact that Putin has not made a quantum leap in modernizing his country’s economy.
In spite of the above, the Helsinki Summit remains very important. It is difficult to predict a change in the fate of Crimea after the section was returned to its origins. One can look forward to reducing the escalation in Ukraine and seeking solutions. Putin is unlikely to acknowledge the intervention in the US presidential elections, even if his partner at the summit raised it. The same is true for the double-agent targeting in Britain.
The tendency to avoid an open arms race between the two countries can be expected. Putin knows that the Soviet Union collapsed due to the costs of the arms race and economic failure.
In Helsinki, the results of Putin’s brilliant paper will emerge. Since his military intervention in Syria in September 2015, he has not neglected Israel’s security for a moment. One can say that he allowed or overlooked the repeated Israeli strikes against the Iranian militias on Syrian soil. He established permanent consultation relations with Netanyahu, which helped shift the focus of the Syrian file from the fate of a regime to the fate of the Iranian military presence in the country.
European diplomats believe that Trump is not interested either, and may hear from Putin that the gradual weakening of Iranian influence in Syria is necessarily through the rehabilitation of the Assad regime and the expansion of power at the expense of the militias. The Europeans fear that Trump will make concessions without receiving assurances about curbing the Iranian influence in Syria and the region.
When I arrived in Helsinki in the afternoon, the city was occupied with the Franco-Croatian war. How beautiful is this war, which do not tear down maps nor send waves of refugees. But the World Cup is over. That is why the world will be preoccupied today and in the coming days with the question of who will win the Helsinki Cup. Is it “the noisy Trump” or “the terrible Putin”?