Analysis of the Trump-Putin meeting

Context behind the meeting, how America could benefit and how lawmakers reacted

ROANOKE, Va. – President Donald Trump is set to return to U.S. soil Monday night after a much-anticipated two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland.

In a news conference afterward, they said they talked about a wide range of issues, and they both said the conversation was a success.

10 News political analyst Dr. Ed Lynch, who served under President Ronald Reagan in the White House, agrees that meetings of this nature are useful. He said American presidents have no choice but to deal with Putin because he has cemented his place atop Russian leadership, at least for now.

“Most U.S. administrations begin with the hope that they'll have a better relationship with Russia, or before that with the Soviet Union, than the previous administration,” he said. “These sorts of meetings are almost always useful.”

Lynch said we didn’t learn much from their news conference afterward.

“I don't know that what they said was very significant quite frankly,” he said. “I think that the very fact that they were meeting, that the meeting was extended by an hour, in diplomatic circles that usually means that there's more agreement.”

In a moment that has drawn criticism around the world, including from top Republicans, President Trump, when asked, decided not to support the U.S. intelligence consensus that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Many say they’d like to see President Trump hold Russia accountable.

That includes Virginia Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte. He sent a statement about Russian election meddling and said, “The evidence is plentiful. Today’s summit was an opportunity to forcefully address this growing threat directly with President Putin. I am dismayed that we did not see that.”

Lynch said the trip to Finland was a diplomatic visit, and President Trump was treading lightly. He believes one reason President Trump was calm and complimentary was because he thinks President Putin wouldn’t respond well to accusations.

“If President Trump had gone out there and said 'we know this was going on.' Then what? Does anybody really expect Vladimir Putin to say, 'Oh gosh, you caught me. I'm very sorry Donald. It will never happen again,'" he said.

Trump said the two leaders discussed nuclear weapons, North Korea and Islamic terrorism, among other topics. Lynch believes actions - not discussions - can persuade President Putin, so Americans should watch closely to see what policy changes President Trump makes following the meeting.

“Vladimir Putin is not going to be influenced by words, whether they're very nice, not so nice or somewhere in between. All he respects are actions,” he said.

Lynch said the climate during which President Reagan interacted with the Soviet Union was far different than today’s, and President Putin is a different leader.

“Reagan used very, very harsh rhetoric to talk about the Soviet Union, the 'evil empire,' but there's a very important distinction between the old Soviet Union and the current Russian leadership,” he said. “The old Soviet Union had a psychological weakness that Reagan exploited continuously, and that was the Soviet Union wanted to be regarded as a legitimate, great power. Vladimir Putin couldn't care less how people regard him.”

Lynch said one of President Trump’s bargaining chips is a highly-controversial project right here in southwest Virginia, the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Lynch believes one of Russia’s biggest concerns is anything that affects energy, a pillar of the country’s economy. The pipeline would add some small competition and lower global prices.

“Anything that increases production and distribution of North American energy is a dagger right to the heart of Vladimir Putin's economic core,” he said. “It's actually connected to our area with issues like the Mountain Valley Pipeline. People who don't like Vladimir Putin really ought to be in favor of the Mountain Valley Pipeline because, indirectly, it's a threat to the Russian economy.”

Lynch said reaction to the meeting among the president’s supporters will be split.

“Some Trump supporters who are accustomed to him being very blunt and very out there and very outspoken will wonder why he didn't talk that way to Vladimir Putin. I think other Trump supporters will understand the circumstances are different,” he said.

Lynch thinks the low-level U.S. diplomats will continue to have meetings with Russian officials, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, following the meeting.