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Helsinki and after

The US president cosies up to Putin and stuns his own intelligence establishment

Helsinki and after

Dear All,

President Trump finally came to Britain. He had dinner with the PM and tea with the Queen, and he tried very hard to ignore the hundreds of thousands of people who congregated in London in a ‘carnival of resistance’ to protest him and his visit.

The anti-Trump March was an astonishing display. People of all ages, from toddlers to pensioners, participated with a wide array of messages and witty banners rejecting the President’s anti-immigrant and misogynist views and statements. The lovely summer weather helped to give the protest a lovely festive air. Protestors turned the event into a carnival of unity and tolerance, and they were buoyed by the support of the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, who had allowed the use of the Trump baby balloon in London during the protest.

Meanwhile, President Trump gave an interview to The Sun in which he said that Boris Johnson would do a better job than Theresa May who was “making a mess of Brexit negotiations”. He then promptly denied he’d said this and declared it was “fake news”, upon which The Sun published the audio of the whole interview, which completely demolished his fake news allegation. According to the British PM he also advised her “to sue the EU”. Trump strolled distractedly through his visit to the Queen and then flew off to his golf course in Scotland.

The surreal nature of Trump’s presidency and his travels continued with the Helsinki summit where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and made remarks in which he appeared to side with the Kremlin rather than with his own government agencies.

The US intelligence community maintains that the Russian leader was active in measures that harmed the Clinton campaign and hence helped Trump’s campaign in the 2016 election. But in the presser Trump appeared to side with Putin despite what his own Intel agencies held, he became defensive and said the fact that he beat Clinton had nothing to do with the Russians — “We won that race. And it’s a shame that there can be even a little bit of a cloud over it… We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president.”

His remarks stunned the US intelligence community with former CIA Director John Brennan declaring that what the president had said was “nothing short of treasonous”. The US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has also found evidence of Russia’s interference during the US presidential campaign. Twelve Russian military officers have been indicted for allegedly hacking and leaking emails, yet despite this the President’s remarks seemed to suggest that he did not believe the Intel regarding Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign.

Typically, the very next day following criticism from many Americans, including senior Republicans, Trump seemed to backtrack on his remarks saying he had said, “would when he actually meant wouldn’t”. Yet, there is no going back from the show of unity by the two leaders at Helsinki, no denying a bromance that seemed to be based on the premise that their critics were simply lying conspirators.

The US president’s stance has astonished observers some of whom cite the Helsinki summit as being the start of a post-Cold War phase of history where, “the post 1945 order of international values and ethics may be ending”, as a Guardian editorial put it.

Over the next few days, no doubt Trump will make many more remarks and accusations and create many more mini dramas, but the fact remains that Helsinki marks a turning point in how the US treats Russia: the US now doesn’t even mention, let alone condemn, Russia’s role in Ukraine and despite Britain’s request to do so, President Trump didn’t raise the issue of the Novichok poisoning in the UK of the Skripals with his Russian counterpart.

The fact is that now Putin is basking in the glow of the football World Cup that his country hosted. And he seems as pleased as Trump with the fissures in the EU and the undermining of Nato. One image from the final ceremony of the tournament perfectly sums up Putin’s position: that in which he alone of the world leaders and officials on the podium is protected from the pouring rain by a large umbrella. Despite the evidence linking Russia to the results of the Brexit referendum and the US presidential election, he is now being protected from the condemnation pouring down. And in this storm the umbrella is being held up by his new best friend — President Trump.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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