A summit between the leaders of the world’s strongest nuclear powers, which fought the Cold War for decades, is an opportunity to discuss areas of shared interest, find ways to dial down mutual tensions and work together to address global issues. But well before Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin sat down for their first formal summit meeting, in Helsinki, there were concerns that it would be overshadowed by allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The uproar in Washington over Mr. Trump’s remarks on the Russian meddling scandal — with even accusations of treason — and his subsequent U-turn suggest that such concerns were valid. Mr. Trump could have certainly managed the summit better by addressing genuine concerns in the U.S. over allegations of Russia’s election meddling. Days earlier, the U.S. Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for hacking and leaking emails of top Democrats. It therefore seemed surreal when the President accepted the Russian version over that of his own intelligence agencies and the Justice Department. Away from the controversy, the closed-door meeting between the leaders can be evaluated only on the progress made on a number of contentious issues before both.
The new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is set to expire in 2021 and Russia has shown interest in extending it. For a consensus, high-level talks between the U.S. and Russia are needed. From the crisis in Ukraine to the civil war in Syria, Russia-U.S. cooperation is vital to finding lasting solutions. The Iran nuclear deal, for which Mr. Putin and Barack Obama worked together despite differences, is in a shambles. Most of these issues, including the threat posed by nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, were discussed at the summit. But it’s not clear whether the talks will lead to any significant change in policies. Since the Ukraine crisis, the West has tried different methods, including sanctions and pressure tactics, to isolate Russia and change its behaviour. But those methods have proved largely unsuccessful as Russia is now a far more ambitious foreign policy power with an enhanced presence in Eastern Europe and West Asia — even if its sanctions-hit economy is struggling. Instead of continuing a policy that has failed and ratcheted up global tensions, the Western alliance should junk its Cold War mentality and engage with Russia; Russia, in turn, will have to shed its rogue attitude and be more open and stable in its dealings. The stakes are high and the bitterness of the past should not hinder U.S.-Russia relations. That should have been the message from Helsinki.
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