Reactions from the first ever Putin-Trump press conference have been all too predictable with the following narratives being offered from those coming from various editorial and ideological viewpoints.
Liberal/mainstream media reaction
This group of individuals both in a professional and social media capacity have been quick to criticise the press conference due to the cordial atmosphere that except for a few moments of World Cup themed light relief was in actual fact better described as businesslike and mutually respectful. For such individuals, the fact that the US President decided to meet with the Russian President at all is some sort of crime against neo-liberal visions of the ‘American way’ and as such they were bound to be displeased with the summit no matter the result. Donald Trump in fact predicted as much in a pre-summit Tweet.
Compounding matters is that Donald Trump refrained from criticising Russia regarding alleged 2016 election interference and instead used the opportunity to engage in what amounted to confrontational debates with members of the US liberal mainstream media regarding the servers at the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton’s infamously missing emails and the incompetence of the Obama administration. In this sense, much of the question and answer session where American journalists were involved was reduced to a kind of shouting match between reporters and Donald Trump. At that point, President Putin could have left the room for several minutes and few on the American side would have noticed.
Both conservative and centre-left Israeli publications are in the midst of a ideological victory lap as two of the three most powerful men on earth have agreed that Israel’s security along the purple line in the Golan Heights – the de-facto border with Syria, is a paramount goal. Oddly, pro-Zionist US media seems to have totally missed or is ignoring the fact that the most concrete agreement that the two leaders reached was a commitment to ensure that the current Syrian and allied operations near the Golan Heights at no point spill over into the occupied territories. The obvious subtext from Putin, which was later stated more overtly by Trump is that both the US and Russia are committed to exorcising Iran and Hezbollah’s presence from Syria, albeit it for different reasons.
This is fully inline with recent statements from Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu who prior to his meeting with Putin days ago sought this exact agreement. The result is that Netanyahu got exactly what he wanted from both Russia and the US, while acting as the glue that effectively lead to an historic area of agreement between Washington and Moscow at a time when every other major dispute between the nuclear superpowers remains largely unresolved. Israelis are celebrating this and objectively it is not difficult to understand why. The fact that the overwhelmingly pro-Israel US mainstream media hasn’t caught this key element is perhaps more of a symptom of either ignorance or of wanting not to associate Trump with anything most Americans see as positive, than of anything more profound.
While Putin did voice his support for the JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) while Trump predictably condemned Iran for undefined “regional hostility” and unevidenced “nuclear ambitions”, it is noteworthy that Putin’s defence of the JCPOA was stated in incredibly mild language while his support for Israel’s position vis-a-vis the Golan was loud and clear.
Iranian media having clearly understood that Russia seeks a more balanced position between all parties to the Syrian conflict and have consequently become predictably demure about the press conference as neither Press-TV, Mehr News, Fars News nor the Tasnim News Agency have mentioned the remarks about Israel during the press conference in their international editions as of 21.30 Helsinki time.
Pro-Islamic Resistance Social Media
The heavily pro-Iran and mutually pro-Syria Islamic Resistance social media sphere whose influence cannot be underestimated both in the Arab world and in the English language anti-mainstream media demographic has started to show signs of fragmentation over the Russian President who most of these influential commentators adored seemingly unconditionally not long ago. While some admit that it is possible (as it of course is) for Russia to be a partner of Iran and Israel/Turkey/Saudi Arabia/Egypt and Qatar simultaneously, many others are either calling the Russian President a “traitor” to an Islamic Resistance cause he never pretended to dedicate himself or his nation to, or are otherwise pretending that somehow Putin does not actually mean what he says regarding Tel Aviv even though he and other prominent Russian officials have made similar remarks for months.
They all have one thing in common
All of the aforementioned media/social media circles have for years talked about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad more than just about any Arab leader – in some cases more than any leader in the world. For Iranian media and pro-Islamic Resistance social media, rallying around the Syrian President was of vital importance. Likewise, arguing for the Syrian President’s removal was equally important to both liberal American mainstream media as well as virtually all Israeli media outlets.
Today at the press conference however, while Syria, Iran, Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu were mentioned by name, Bashar al-Assad was not mentioned in any context – not even by inference. This was the case in respect of both the two presidents and in respect of journalists from both Russia and the United States. This means that in all of the recent rapidly advancing developments in the recent months of the Syrian crisis, most interested parties have resigned themselves to the reality that Bashar al-Assad will remain in power for the foreseeable future.
This is a result of Russia’s steadfast support of the Syrian Arab Republic as well as the fact that Moscow was able to cut a deal with Israel whereby for the first time in history, Tel Aviv has agreed to de-facto recognise the legitimacy of an Arab Nationalist leader in spite of the fact that the Arab Nationalist in question, Bashar al-Assad has no plans to recognise Israel in any way.
This feat which is in many ways the real deal of the century, is one in which Russia’s cooperative stance with Israel regarding a joint position on Iranian and Hezbollah troops in Syria, one which the US has long shared, has led to Israel to make a concession to an Arab Nationalist President on the other side of its border for the first time in history. Never before has Israel made such a concession wilfully. The closet analogue was in 1956 when the US and USSR uniquely teamed up to force the joint Israeli, British and French withdrawal from Nasserist Egypt. In 1956, the US and USSR combined against Israel and its European partners in order to maintain regional balance. Now Israel has itself acknowledged Russia’s role in preserving this balance while the US has found that the Russo-Israeli deal of the century is one that it cannot refuse as doing so would mean that the US would be more anti-Arab Nationalist than Israel, something which would be absurd from any persepctive.
In going from a source of either praise or ire to now being an invisible man, Russia’s deal making ability has transformed Bashar al-Assad into “just another world leader” which is all patriotic Syrians ever wanted him to be acknowledged as. The key to accomplishing this was the fact that Russia treated Israel like “just any other country” – not with the ideological opposition and ire that Iran treats Israel with, nor with the reverential kit gloves and admiration with which the US treats it.
This deal is still a long way from normalising one of the most fractious regions in the world, but it has shown that while journalists, commentators and activists are arguing with each other as much as one would expect after a Putin-Trump summit, they are no longer arguing over Bashar al-Assad. In this sense, the pre-2011 status quo for both Syria and Israel was the winner of the Helsinki summit and since Israel’s existence has not been threatened since 2011 while Syria’s has, one could say that the Syrian President had the last laugh after all.