As far as the Russian side was concerned, Putin wanted a meeting that wouldn’t be announced too far in advance, but would last as long as possible. A spontaneous, almost impromptu meeting that went over schedule could be hailed as a diplomatic success for Russia.
For Trump, the meeting was a bigger challenge. Every extra fifteen minutes behind closed doors in Putin’s company adds credibility to accusations of collusion, treason, or at best inability to confront the enemy.
It looks as though Trump doesn’t need a personal friendship with Putin as much as he wants to be able to boast of better results than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton achieved. This can actually be done either by becoming friends with Putin or by crushing him. All that Trump cares about is the end result.
The two leaders agreed on a ceasefire in southwest Syria that “will be monitored by the Russian military police in coordination with Americans and Jordanians.” Essentially, it’s a go-ahead for a Russian ground operation in Syria, which, of course, will be conducted not only in the interests of the local population but also of the government in Damascus. The “coordination” that (Russian Foreign Minister) Lavrov talks about sounds very much like a low-key, cool-headed alliance.
The appointment of a new U.S. special envoy for Ukraine with a special channel of communication with the Russian special envoy looks like a more solid arrangement than the previous one.
The idea of creating a joint “impenetrable” cybersecurity unit—something that Trump later backed away from—was the most remarked-upon development. Critics of Trump and Russia may see this development as an important admission by both sides that the reported Russian meddling in the American elections did indeed occur. The majority of Trump’s American critics see this as being a straightforward capitulation to Putin, but in Moscow this proposal looked very different. After the Hamburg meeting, the conversation has shifted from being about ultimatums to agreeing rules.
The problem with a major deal between Putin and Trump continues to be that they have nothing of equal value to trade. There are many things Russia wants from the United States: lifting of economic sanctions; unofficial recognition of Russian sovereignty over Crimea and resumption of international business operations there; resolution of the Ukraine conflict, including federalization of Ukraine; treating Russia as an equal partner independently fighting the war against Islamic terrorism in the Middle East rather than just as a potential member of the Western coalition. In the long run, Russia wants the United States to refrain from interfering in its domestic affairs and would also like to play a greater role on the international stage.
But what can Moscow offer in return? So far, it would be hard to find goals that the United States can’t achieve without Russia, apart from resolving the crises that Russia itself helped to create. In fact, pressure might work better than negotiations in this case.
In fact, if Russia is as powerful and dangerous as it has been portrayed in recent months, no specific agreements are necessary. Just reducing tensions in dealing with such a terrible enemy that can wreak havoc both internationally and within the United States would be considered a success. Nobody wants to live in a hostile environment—be it businesses or ordinary voters. Even without doing any specific deals, simply removing a threat is already a gift to one’s own country and the world.