The EU is a “foe”, while the US must “engage” with Russia, Donald Trump has said as he prepares to meet Vladimir Putin.
Trump, the US president, designated the EU as an enemy while talking about a trade war with Europe on the CBS broadcaster on Sunday (15 July).
“The European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think [it] of the European Union, but they’re a foe,” he said.
“In a trade sense, they’ve really taken advantage of us,” he added.
On the other hand, it was “critical that the leaders of the US and Russia engage on important matters,” the US state department said on Monday, as Trump landed in Helsinki for his tete-a-tete with the Russian chief.
“Congratulations to president Putin and Russia for putting on a truly great World Cup tournament – one of the best ever!,” Trump said on Twitter.
“He [Putin] has been very nice to me … hopefully, someday, maybe he’ll be a friend,” the US leader said last week.
To add insult to injury, the state department said that it would impose sanctions on EU firms doing business with Iran, the NBC network also reported.
“We will seek to provide unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime,” the department said, after Trump walked away from a deal on Iran nuclear arms control.
The refusal to exempt EU firms comes despite the fact Russia is to invest $50bn in Iran’s energy sector.
Russia also sold Iran high-tech anti-aircraft systems, with no Trump objections.
That US messaging turned the world upside down for the European Union.
“America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news,” EU Council president Donald Tusk said, using Trump’s own pet slur against him.
Tusk went further at an EU-China summit in Beijing on Sunday.
He said the parallel EU-China, US-Russia meetings were a sign that “the architecture of the world [was] changing before our very eyes”, referring to shifting allegiances.
Tusk also likened Trump’s trade war with the EU to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
“Today we’re facing a dilemma: whether to play a tough game such as tariff wars and conflicts in places like Ukraine … or to look for common solutions,” he said.
“The American president provokes, he’s trying to create tensions with the EU, he positions himself as our opponent, we don’t see things this way at all,” Michael Roth, a senior German diplomat added on Monday.
“Calling your best friends ‘foes’ only makes your real foes happy,” European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans said.
His reference to Nato’s “real foes” nodded to Russia’s heightened geopolitical menace.
Putin invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 when they tried to align themselves with the West.
Russia’s military has harassed Nato allies in the Baltic region. Its hackers have also attacked US and EU elections, helping Trump to win office in 2016.
The Helsinki summit comes a few days after Trump threatened to quit Nato, insulted Germany’s Angela Merkel, and urged Britain to break off Brexit talks and “sue” the EU instead – creating a spectacle of Western infighting.
The best case scenario for Europe is that Trump and Putin agree nothing substantial, except to revive a nuclear disarmament treaty.
The worst case is that Trump makes a deal over Europe’s head, for instance, to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, or to end sanctions, in return for Putin’s warm words.
No matter what the outcome is, the summit will be a propaganda triumph for the Russian leader on state media, however.
It means Russia can look down on the US the way the Soviet Union used to, Igor Korotchenko, a Russian defence chief, told Russian TV ahead of Monday’s meeting.
“You [Trump] came to us, because you need something,” Korotchenko said.
‘Trump is ours’
Trump was a “political neophyte” and Putin, a former spy chief, who is skilled in “studying the mind of targets, finding their vulnerabilities, and figuring out how to use them,” would “educate” the US leader, other Russian media reported.
“Trump is ours,” a TV anchor joked, alluding to old allegations that Putin had compromising material on Trump.
Even if no grand bargain is announced, that would not mean the summit was not a victory, because they might have made “secret verbal deals” when they spoke, one-to-one, with just their interpreters present, as planned in Finland, another Russian outlet said.