Of all at stake in the Trump-Putin summit, Syria is most in peril

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Opinion

July 15, 2018 - 11:00 PM

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in private for more than two hours today in Helsinki, Finland. Nikolsky Alexei/TASS/Zuma Press/TNS

Those who worry that President Trump will make unwarranted concessions to Vladimir Putin at their summit meeting today have plenty to fret about, including Mr. Trump’s hints that he might recognize Russia’s forcible annexation of Crimea or scale back NATO deployments in the Baltic states. But the most probable area of appeasement is Syria — which Russia aspires to dominate, at the expense of U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East, and which Mr. Trump seems inclined to give away.

If he were a normal president, Mr. Trump would surely be furious at Mr. Putin, who just ruptured a deal the two of them struck on Syria when they met a year ago. The Russian ruler pledged to respect a cease-fire in the southwestern corner of the country, near Israel, where U.S.-backed rebels were based — a promise he reiterated at his last meeting with Mr. Trump in November. Instead, last month Russia backed an offensive by the regime of Bashar al-Assad in the area, ignoring State Department warnings of “serious repercussions.” By the end of this week, Syrian forces had forced the surrender of most of the rebels, using the usual barbarous tactics — such as bombings of hospitals.

Mr. Trump’s reaction? He insisted on going forward with the summit, asked for one-on-one time with Mr. Putin and speculated at a news conference Thursday that they soon might become personal friends. Apparently, Mr. Putin, unlike leaders of U.S. allies, need not worry that this president will turn on him for disregarding commitments.

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