EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a historic summit in Helsinki, Finland on July 15 that was assessed by many as a defeat for US prestige and interests. The summit should not, however, be construed as a Russian victory. US foreign policy moves after the summit indicate that there is little chance for meaningful improvement in bilateral relations. The complexity of issues surrounding Syria, Ukraine, Georgia, and Iran will continue to weigh heavily on US-Russian diplomatic efforts.
Ukraine, which struggles with pro-Russian forces in the east of the country, was deeply apprehensive in the lead-up to the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki on July 15. Its fears were largely unrealized. The summit, though hailed as a triumph for Putin by many Russian analysts and politicians, did not really bring about any changes in Moscow’s favor. In fact, on July 25, the US Department of State issued the “Crimea Declaration,” which is its strongest statement yet of the US position denouncing Russian moves against Ukraine. This might not mean much from a geopolitical point of view, but it further commits Washington to its policy of non-recognition of Russian territorial gains.
Moreover, the US announced that it would give Ukraine around $200 million to strengthen its defense capabilities. Though the Pentagon indicated that the funds would be for training, communications, medical, and other non-lethal operational needs, the timing of the decision is notable. Ukraine is a crucial component of US containment policy.