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What did Russians think of the Trump-Putin summit?

New threats from U.S. politicians to hit Russia with sanctions for meddling in U.S. elections has Russians unsure whether President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladmir Putin was really a success. As reality sets in, Kimberly Marten, the director of a program on U.S.-Russia relations at Columbia University, says now, Russians are concerned. Marten joins Hari Sreenivasan.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It’s been a dizzying series of statements in the week following the President Trump – President Putin meeting in Helsinki. And speculation continues about what the two men actually talked about one-on-one last Monday for more than two hours. The White House press secretary called it the beginning of a dialogue with Russia, the State Department said no agreements were reached and Mr. Trump declared vaguely that “many positive things will come out of that meeting.” So what do the Russians think and what do they want going forward?

    Joining me now is Kimberly Marten director of the program on U.S.-Russia relations at Columbia University and a professor of political science at Barnard College. So first, what is the mood on the streets in Russia and how does that play into what Vladimir Putin wants?

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Well, it was initially seen as a huge triumph that he was able to be treated equally by the United States president. That’s what Russia has long wanted — to be treated seriously as somebody who was a necessary player in any kind of discussion about international security. And now the reality is sort of starting to sink in and people are realizing that in fact Trump’s performance did not go over well in the United States. And they’re saying, oh, what might that mean? And there is now concern, there are a couple of different bills that are pending in Congress on increasing the sanctions, and people are wondering what kind of sanctions are going to happen next. And so it’s maybe a let down a little bit.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Well, what was the impact of those sanctions on the Russian economy? I mean, it’s nowhere close to parallel to the U.S., it’s much, much smaller but that seems to be one of the things that Putin is very interested in relieving, that tension, that stress.

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Yes, I think that’s why he called for this meeting of business leaders on both sides. And we know that the sanctions are having an impact on Russia without question. Especially, they’re having an impact on the oil and natural gas industry. But what really is making the Russian economy weak is a combination of continuing corruption, which adds sort of a tax to every kind of deal that’s made, because people have to always pay off somebody on the side, and then just the failure to restructure away from state ownership of these huge oil and natural gas and mineral companies as being the center of the economy. So Russian laws right now don’t really encourage small and medium business owners to be at all, you know, proactive or innovative.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So what about the idea of future summits? What has to happen to make those summits perhaps more effective?

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Well, one thing that was really missing I think in this summit was a sense of lower level experts getting together to talk things through before the two people in chief got together to talk, before Putin and Trump got together to talk. And so it’s good news that we think that Pompeo and Lavrov, the secretary of state on the U.S. side and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the Russian side, have started talking by telephone about what might happen next. We need a lot more of that. We need the basis of the conversation to be worked out before Trump and Putin actually get together to talk about things so, that they’re just putting the icing on the cake rather than trying to work out the technical details between themselves.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What are the tensions or the forces that are at work in Russia right now that Putin has to be responsive to in terms of his public, the policies that are out there?

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Well, it’s a very different situation from the United States because he doesn’t actually have to worry about being reelected, for example, but he does have to worry about what his base thinks of him and his base is ordinary people, ordinary workers and ordinary pensioners. And that’s really significant in what’s happening recently, because there is a law that might be going forward that would raise the pension age in Russia for men. It would be going up from 60 to 65. And the reason that that matters is that Russian men still have a tendency to die much younger than their counterparts in the rest of the developed world. And so, there’s a lot of pushback against this idea coming from ordinary people who are going out and protesting. But you know, this whole thing having a win on the foreign policy stage takes people’s attention maybe off of what’s happening domestically and he can go back and say that he’s the man who made Russia great again, and maybe try to get some of this popularity back that has slipped in recent weeks because of the pension reform question.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Kimberly Marten of Columbia University and Barnard College. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • KIMBERLY MARTEN:

    Thank you Hari.

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