It may be a good thing that US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin did not touch on the Baltic states during their joint press conference in Helsinki on Monday, as Trump's messages are always unpredictable, said political scientist Andres Kasekamp.
Speaking at a joint press conference following their meeting on Monday, Trump and Putin did not mention Finland as a neutral intermediary country in the disagreement between Russia and the US centered around the Baltic countries and NATO, reported ERR's radio news, noting that Russia has criticised NATO and US military presence in the Baltics.
"On the one hand we can be thankful, because we expected the worst out of Trump's mouth," Kasekamp told ERR on Monday night. "Maybe it's a good thing that these two leaders didn't outright touch on our region, because when it comes to Trump, you never know what he might say. Such as when he said following his meeting with North Korean leader [Kim Jong-un] that the US has unilaterally decided to call off its military exercises in South Korea. So thankfully we did not have such a moment at this meeting, or at least at this press conference."
He noted that both world leaders of course praised the Finnish president and state for their hospitality, but there didn't appear to be any bigger security-related matter related o Finland or the Baltic region.
According to Kasekamp, however, Trump and Putin didn't have much of any significance to say at Monday afternoon's press conference.
"There were no definite agreements or initiatives," he said. "Just Trump's own self-admiration, the denigration of his predecessors — Barack Obama in particular was unable to achieve anything like this — that Russian-US relations had gone downhill thanks to his predecessors and that Trump was now trying to improve the situation."
Kasekamp noted that Trump described how prior to his becoming president, Russian-US relations had never been so bad before, and that he had brought about a positive turn in the two countries' relations.
"But throughout the entire press conference, not one new initiative or agreement was brought up that would signal that anything had changed significantly beyond the fact that these two men have gotten even better acquainted and found common ground," he concluded.
Liik: Putin did not try to divide up world with Trump
Speaking in an interview with ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Monday night, Kadri Liik, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said that Putin tried to avoid steamrolling Trump, so to speak, and did not want to divide up the world Yalta-style with the US president.
"I think that the most significant change for the world will be the fact that following today's meeting, Russia and the US will restore its communication channels on a number of different levels," Liik said. "And although we may have some doubts about what is actually discussed at that highest of levels, I believe that, generally speaking, this is still rather a good thing that a number of topics are being discussed on the official level, where it will be possible to move forward with them."
According to the senior fellow, Putin tried to avoid steamrolling Trump, because as far as she understood, Russia's thinking was based on the fact that they had noted that the US Republican Party is starting to make up with Trump and they understood that this would give Russia the opportunity to discuss some actual substantive matters.
"This is why they tried to be very careful about bringing up topics that they know the Republicans and Moscow do not see eye to eye on at all, such as Ukraine," she said. "So I don't think Putin tried to divide up the world with Trump Yalta style the way many people in Estonia expected and feared would happen."
Liik found nonetheless, however, that Trump did himself a disservice on Monday. "The way he so fiercely denied his personal contacts with Putin and especially the fact that he blamed his own country — you can see how this sparked a storm of resentment in the US," she observed. "And so if Russia's hope was that the Russia matter would end up a less sensitive one in terms of internal politics, which would allow them to begin talking with the US again, then it seems to me that, as far as this is concerned, the meeting achieved the exact opposite outcome."
According to the senior policy fellow, Moscow wants the US to legitimise its solution in Syria, which is Assad's remaining in power, as it is in the US' interests that Russia keeps Iranian activity in Syria under control and Iran away from the Israeli border.
"But in terms of Ukraine and a more general system of values, I believe that no progress can be expected there, and Moscow knows this well," Liik concluded.
Editor: Aili Vahtla