Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump participated to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Da Nang, Vietnam (6-11 November, 2017). After conflicting reports about a possible meeting, the two leaders were photographed shaking hands during a group photo opportunity. The Russian media outlet Dni.ru described the brief encounter as follows: "The American leader approached the Russian president, shook his hand, patted him on the shoulder and stood beside him."
The Russian media outlet Komsomolskaya Pravda further stressed that Trump "stood at the right hand" of the Russian president. It is worth noting that in Russian, as in other languages, to stand/sit at "the right hand" means symbolically being the closet ally, aide or friend. Traditionally, the Tsar's favorites stood at his right hand. Yet, the handshake between the two leaders was regarded by the Russian press as a sign of normal relations. "The two Presidents did not ignore each other, and thus there is still room for dialogue," wrote Komsomolskaya Pravda.
However, the Russian side blamed the U.S. administration for the absence of a genuine sit-down meeting between the two presidents. Responding to question about the prospects for a meeting on the APEC's sidelines, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said: "Why are you asking me? Ask the Americans, because we are not talking about this at all. We say we heard about U.S. President Donald Trump’s wish to meet with President of Russia Vladimir Putin, voiced by President Trump himself. What his officials say, I do not know. I cannot be responsible for this, so please contact the American side." It is also worth noting that Lavrov used the disparaging Russian word "chinushi" to refer to the American officials, a word which means negligent, incompetent officials, who are not doing their job or do it very arrogantly.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov also explained: "The Americans have not displayed any flexibility, unfortunately they have not provided any alternative variants. That's why the meeting could not have taken place."
Nevertheless, during the APEC summit, Putin and Trump issued a joint statement on Syria. However, the well-known and pro-Kremlin intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov minimized its importance: "The joint statement [on Syria] is good, but has nothing to do with a Putin-Trump meeting, since such statements are prepared in advance through diplomatic channels. At most, Putin and Trump might have exchanged these words during this 'meeting': "So, do we accept the statement? – Yes, we do". That's it. The statement is a declaration of some intentions. It is not bad having joint declarations, but it means little."
Trump and Putin shaking hands at the APEC summit (Source:Kp.ru)
APEC Economic Leaders. (Source: Apec2017.vn)
Pushkov's Tweet Storm
Senator Alexey Pushkov (@Alexey_Pushkov) posted in his Twitter account: "In diplomacy, the rigid conditions attached to a meeting signify a readiness to sabotage it. The U.S. administration has sabotaged the talks, because it did not want the meeting to take place."
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, November 12, 2017)
Pushkov wrote: "Trump is consistent – he declared a potential for having 'very, very, very good relations with Russia'. He remains a sober man amidst the general hysteria".
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, November 11, 2017)
Pushkov also commented: "The meeting of the U.S. and Russia leaders in Da Nang set a new record for brevity. Trump was not ready for negotiations – he is bound hand and foot".
(Twitter.com/Alexey_Pushkov, November 10, 2017)
Putin: '[Trump's] Behavior Is Absolutely Polite And Friendly, And We Have A Normal Dialogue'
Putin and Trump on the sidelines of the summit.
During a press conference on the sidelines of the APEC summit, Putin commented about the non-meeting with Trump. According to Putin, the continued "crisis" in U.S.-Russia relations was the reason why a genuine meeting with the U.S. President did not take place.
Putin claimed that Russia wants "harmonious relations" with the U.S. not only in the economic sphere, but also in "ensuring security." However, the Russian President stressed that two obstacles are blocking normalized relations with Washington. The first is the implementation of the START treaty. Putin has reiterated several times that according to Moscow, the U.S. does not meet its commitments. And the second obstacle is the deployment of American launch pads in Romania that can be used not only for interceptor missiles but also for the Trident system.
Nevertheless, Putin complimented Trump, saying that his behavior is "absolutely polite and friendly," and that the two of them have "a normal dialogue."
Putin also mentioned the joint statement with Trump on Syria. The Russian President commented: "We can state that the work on the APEC summit’s sidelines was useful and successful because it was not easy to arrive at the statement on Syria."
Q: "One of the summit’s mysteries was whether you and Mr. Trump would hold talks. As far as I understand, you have managed to talk 'on the fly.' Could you please tell us what you talked about and why a full-fledged meeting, full-scale talks failed to materialize?"
Vladimir Putin: "Regarding a separate meeting. First, this had to do with Mr. Trump’s schedule, my schedule and certain protocol formalities which our teams, unfortunately, failed to coordinate. But they will be disciplined for that.
"However, nothing terrible has happened, we talked during today’s meeting, we communicated and, essentially, we have discussed everything we wanted to. What did we talk about?
"We talked about the matters discussed at the APEC summit, we talked about how new opportunities opened up by the digital economy can be utilized in developing economic relations. And as you know, we also agreed a joint statement on fighting terrorism in Syria.
"In this respect, I mean the former and the latter, we can state that the work on the APEC summit’s sidelines was useful and successful because it was not easy to arrive at the statement on Syria. Our experts were working on it ahead of the summit, and the final revision began yesterday.
"Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Tillerson dealt with issues that arose after the text was submitted by the experts, and the U.S. President and I approved this document today. I think it is important because it stresses some absolutely fundamental matters.
"First, it is the ongoing fight with terrorism. It is also vitally important for the United States in view of the latest tragic events there related to terrorist encroachments. It is important for us, for a nation that has been facing this problem for a long time, and for the whole international community. The fight against terror will go on, and it will go on through joint efforts.
"As to Syria, I think it crucial that we have confirmed the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have agreed that after completing the fight against terror, liquidating the terrorist threat on that territory, we will move on along the road of political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations. You can see the details of the statement. I think it has already been published.
Q: "Mr. President, talks on the sidelines of such summits are sometimes as essential as official meetings. Can you tell us about your contacts backstage?
"And one more question on the issue. Donald Trump is famous for pulling his vis-à-vis towards himself as he shakes hands. However, they say such tricks are a no-go with a master of sports in Sambo. Did he try to do something like that when he shook hands with you?"
Vladimir Putin: "You know, I am not aware of his tricks, we do not know each other well. But the U.S. President’s behavior is absolutely polite and friendly, and we have a normal dialogue.
"Unfortunately, there is too little time, we still have not managed to discuss the entire range of our relations, and there is a great deal to talk about – both in the security area and in the area of economic cooperation, which is practically suspended as of today.
"We had a meager 28 billion, and now we have 20 billion. This is nothing for such nations as the United States and Russia, it is almost zero. This is why we and our teams should definitely find an opportunity to sit down and discuss the whole scope of our relations. But let me reiterate, he is a courteous man and it is comfortable to talk and work with him."
Q: "Are you disappointed about not meeting with Mr. Trump? What does it say about the current state of Russia-U.S. relations?"
Vladimir Putin: "It says the relations between Russia and the United States are still in crisis. As you know, I speak often and at length about it, we are ready to turn this page over and move on, to look into the future, to solve problems which are of concern both for the people of the United States and the people of the Russian Federation, and to think about filling our economic relations with concrete significant content.
"Look, at the last Economic Forum in St Petersburg, the U.S. companies had the largest representation. U.S. companies were in the majority at the Economic Forum in St Petersburg. Everyone wants to work in Russia.
"Now, they did not let ExxonMobil work on the Arctic shelf. The company was simply deprived just of an interesting, promising opportunity that would have enhanced the economic power of the United States, created jobs in the United States, generated revenue, taxes, etc.
"This is just one example, while taking into account restrictions in financing, for instance, there are many more examples. Your place will be taken by your competitors. It is inevitable in the modern world. But we want harmonious relations with the United States not just in the economy but also in ensuring security.
"We have the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – START III. When the treaty was being concluded, I was not the President of Russia, and President Trump did not take part in drafting that treaty. But it exists. There are issues in it that need to be discussed.
"Another problem is short- and intermediate-range missiles. We hear reprimands from some of our US partners that Russia allegedly violates that Treaty. But in this case, they should show how we do it.
"Meanwhile, in Romania there are launch pads deployed that can be used not only for interceptor missiles but also for the Trident system, which are intermediate-range missiles deployed in the sea, and they can be easily brought ashore and used as surface-based intermediate-range missiles. In our view, this is a direct violation.
"There are also some other issues that we can and should discuss, including the fight against terrorism. The fact that even under such conditions we manage to agree on anything (I mean the Syria statement) is already good, albeit too little."
(Kremlin.ru, November 11, 2017)
Well-Known Intellectual Lukyanov: 'The Americans Decided To Show To The Russians Who Is The Boss'
Fyodor Lukyanov the well-known Russian intellectual and Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine commented in the Telegram channel of "Russia in Global Affairs" (@ru_global):
"The fuss over the non-meeting between Putin and Trump during the summit left quite an unpleasant feeling. The impression is (though it might be wrong, of course) that the Americans decided to demonstrate to the Russian who is the boss in the house and who makes decisions.
"The mere fact that presidential aide Yuri Ushakov, a very serious person, who tries to avoid publicity, said quite definitively that the meeting would occur, proves that there was a solid agreement on the issue. The mere fact that Trump abandoned this settlement is humiliating, while the reaction of the Russian side arouses bewilderment.
"After the White House representative confirmed that the schedule did not allow the meeting to take place, the Russian officials continued to insist that the question was still undecided and the setup of the meeting was being coordinated. Afterward they have announced an "on the go" meeting, as if they would certainly meet, since both of them are present at the same time in the same place. Whether this is a right feeling or not, the impression was that the Russian side wanted this meeting badly, and was almost trying to persuade [the Americans] to pay a visit. This ended up in a humiliating manner – a handshake during the photo session and a patronizing slap on Putin's shoulder. No discussions.
"The reason behind such a humble and most untypical behavior by the Russian delegation is unclear. It is hard to assume that Putin had something urgent to convey to Trump … In general, the mere essence of this meeting was unclear from the very beginning, when Trump himself was the first to say that he sought it… The [G-20 Putin-Trump meeting in] Hamburg experience demonstrated that in the current climate, direct contact of the two leaders does not result in anything. Since July, the situation has deteriorated still further.
"Trump's behavior is easier to explain. Probably he had to demonstrate that Putin was not the most important interlocutor, and that Trump would decide alone whether he wanted to meet him or not. The fact that Moscow originally welcomed his desire to meet is explicable: For some time Moscow has signaled Washington that is has no desire to escalate ( the conflict ) and a readiness to maintain working relations. [Moscow's] avidness, after it became clear that Trump decided to 'teach a lesson' is inexplicable.
"Nevertheless, Putin is known to put it mildly by adhering to reciprocal actions. Thus, one should not be surprised if Russia reminds the U.S. – sooner or later – that it is not worthwhile to consider Moscow a second class country.
"… The media coverage [of the handshake and meetings on the go] resembles an obsession, which betrays complexes in the presence of the 'older brother'. As if someone badly wanted to run in after the meeting had taken place, and give a triumphant cry: 'The master has appointed me to be his beloved wife!'"
 Dni.ru, November 10, 2017.
 Kp.ru, November 10, 2017.
 Kp.ru, November 10, 2017.
 Mid.ru, November 10, 2017.
 Rbc.ru, November 12, 2017.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1358, The November 10, 2017 Trump-Putin Joint Statement Allows Iran To Deploy Forces Close To Israel's Border – Posing An Existential Threat To Israel's Security, November 13, 2017.
 Nsn.fm, November 11, 2017.