The Helsinki summit provoked outrage in Washington after President Donald Trump declined to endorse the US government’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. In Russia, it’s being seen as a resounding success for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The immediate reaction from Russian officials and Russian media was to cast the meeting with Trump as a win for Moscow and a sign of the Kremlin leader’s stature on the world stage.
It was clear from the body language of top Russian officials. Shortly before a news conference that followed a bilateral meeting with the US side, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov appeared in the hall with wide grins.
Lavrov had only superlatives to describe the talks between the US and Russian leaders, according to Russian media.
“They were magnificent,” Lavrov said, answering a journalist’s question. He added that the talks were “better than super.”
Viktor Bondarev, chair of the Committee on Defense and Security in the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of Parliament, was similarly effusive, according to state news agency RIA-Novosti.
“The attempt of Americans to build a unipolar world did not succeed,” he said after the Helsinki meetings. “They understand it. The whole world understands that you can’t do without Russia. The very fact of a meeting and dialogue is a vivid confirmation of it. Honor and praise to President Vladimir V. Putin for being able to strengthen Russia’s authority in the international arena so that no matter how the Americans and the EU try to exist in confrontation with us, to pressure us with sanctions, they still have to look for ways of getting closer with us. They all still have to come to Russia.”
The Helsinki summit came one day after another triumph for Putin: the final match of the 2018 World Cup, a monthlong tournament that brought thousands of new visitors to Russia and boosted the country’s profile. The World Cup also inspired a burst of patriotism in Russia, following the surprise performance of Russia’s national team, who reached the quarterfinals.
It’s a sharp contrast with Putin’s past isolation, particularly after the 2014 annexation of Crimea. World leaders once snubbed Putin, but the Helsinki summit put him on equal footing with the head of the world’s most powerful country.
Russian media seized on the moment.
In a live talk show on state television broadcast after the summit, Russian Sen. Alexey Pushkov said the controversy roiling US politics over Russian interference in the 2016 election was designed to restrict Trump’s political freedom of action and restrain him from rapprochement with Putin.
“This attempt failed!” Pushkov said. “Because this is an old topic, and it did not affect Trump and it did not have a significant influence on the course of the conversations.”
Russian media also were quick to spin US coverage of the summit, showing clips of what they described as relentlessly negative coverage of the meeting.
Senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev, by contrast, said he had “positive impressions” from the Trump-Putin meetup in Helsinki, RIA-Novosti reported.
The summit “can be a good beginning for the restoration of interaction on a regular basis,” between the US and Russia, Kosachev said, according to RIA-Novosti.
But amid the hoopla over the summit – and the white-hot reactions in Washington and Moscow – Putin himself was characteristically measured and subdued.
The summit with Trump, Putin said, “really very informative and useful,” according to Russian state media.