Spy, star, and the spook buster; thesis of a much awaited, but less revealed meeting; analyses Arun Kumar.
The "Gray Lady of Manhattan" billed it as the "Donnie and Vlad: A Love Story" overshadowing the summit of the world's 20 rich and powerful nations. The "failing New York Times", as the POTUS loves to call it, was confident that their first pow-wow would be "a sure winner for Russia" with a sceptic Donald Trump loathe to raise Moscow's meddling in the 2016 election with Vladimir Putin. Other pundits prophesied that Putin, the former KGB agent, would eat The Donald, the once reality TV star, like a sandwich with a bit of flattery at their short and sweet meeting that was supposed to last just half an hour with no agenda.
The Friday encounter turned in Hamburg out to be a "blockbuster". With not a fly on the wall privy to the inside story, the meeting dragged for all of two hours and 16 agonising minutes for anxious reporters waiting outside. And even FLOTUS Melania Trump peeking through the door could not hurry them along, as Trump's top diplomat Rex Tillerson would tell afterwards.
Defying pundits, the POTUS raised the Russian hacking issue off the bat, claimed Tillerson, who along with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the foursome beside the two interpreters. "Nyet, Nyet," asserted Putin and demanded proof, but nevertheless agreed to organise talks "regarding commitments of non-interference" in Uncle Sam's affairs. As the Russian spy and the proud American author of "The Art of the Deal" focused on how to move forward, they reached their first pact on a partial Syrian ceasefire.
Tillerson also saw "a level of commitment" on the part of Russia to "transition away from the Assad family" after the defeat of ISIS. With Lavrov having a slightly different take suggesting Trump had accepted Putin's "clear statements" about Russian meddling "being untrue" critics quickly latched on to the "differing narratives". Without the ever-present leakers, the hacks of the media variety were left speculating about what transpired behind closed doors after Trump greeted Putin calling it "an honour" and the Russian responded with a "delighted to meet you".
The professionals were apparently kept out of the Hamburg tango as part of what the influential Politico called Trump's "stealthy operation to smoke out leakers" with a crackdown that has sent "chills through national security world". Trump also muddied the waters before the Putin meeting by telling reporters in Poland that "it could very well have been Russia" behind the election hacks or "it could well have been other countries". "Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure," Trump declared even as he chided his predecessor Barack Obama for "choking" while questioning his spooks' assessment about Moscow's role.
Then he fired another tweet missile claiming "Everyone here is talking about why (Clinton campaign chairman) John Podesta refused" to give the Democratic Party's server to the FBI and the CIA, and proclaiming it "Disgraceful!" This sent the pundits on another wild goose chase with a nitpicking hack at the Washington Post churning out a long winded "Analysis" of "one of President Trump's most bizarre tweets yet". And the Times was quick to brand Democratic mayor De Blasio's "sudden trip" to join G-20 protests against the global political and economic system as "Trump Protests".
It was left to a company named Caviar Royal Gift to celebrate the historic summit with a $2,500 special edition Putin-Trump Nokia phone. The special Nokia 3310 features a tiny replica plaque on the back of the phone and "hardened titanium with a pattern of 'Damascus steel' to represent the 'principle and hardness necessary for the protection of justice'."
Ahead of the summit, keeping up his tirade against "the dishonest media", Trump posted a mock video of him pummelling a man in a business suit -- his face obscured by the CNN logo -- outside a wrestling ring with the message: "#FraudNewsCNN #FNN." By all accounts, the Trump-Putin tango was a substantive affair with even CNN conceding that "Trump exceeded expectations". Yet a Times columnist wondered: "Did Putin Have Trump for Lunch?" And given Trump's "past comments", the Post found "it difficult to believe that he confronted Putin with much vigour".
No wonder POTUS keeps complaining, "Fake News Media will never cover me accurately but who cares!"
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)