It remains the biggest unknown from the first one-on-one meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin: what did they actually discuss once the microphones were off and the doors closed?
That question continues to linger from Monday’s historic meeting between the two world leaders in the Finnish capital Helsinki.
What we do know for sure is Trump, Putin and their respective translators sat down for more than two hours – anything further than this is up for debate. Attempting to decipher the meeting is made all the more difficult as no official communique was released as is the norm following such high-profile diplomatic events.
However, the press conference where both leaders answered journalist questions does provide a glimpse into the inner workings of the Trump-Putin dynamic and how relations between the two nations may develop in the coming years.
President Trump had every chance to tell Vladimir Putin today that Russia's interference in our Democracy won't be tolerated.
Instead, Trump cast doubt on America's law enforcement and intelligence professionals. This is an embarrassment to our country. pic.twitter.com/y1pssf2tYC
— House Democrats (@HouseDemocrats) July 16, 2018
Firstly, it is believed economic relations were a cornerstone of the talks. The United States has imposed economic sanctions on Russia over the past few years following the annexation of Crimea, global cyberattack scandals and meddling attempts in the 2016 US Presidential Election. Putin even highlighted the issue in an interview to US conservative news network Fox and argued that Russia was too large of a country to be sanctioned and left isolated.
Secondly, Trump and Putin each mentioned Syria in their joint press conference. Their remarks presume that the war is coming to an end, but that leaves the question of what happens to the nation afterwards. Trump appeared to have said he was willing to help with the rebuilding of Syria: “If we can do something to help the people of Syria get back into some form of shelter and on a humanitarian basis … I think that both of us would be very interested in doing that and we are. We will do that.”
Thirdly, nuclear arms seemed to be the biggest talking point in their press conference and likely discussed in the private meeting. Putin said an agreement had been reached to hold talks regarding an extension to the Start treaty before it expires in 2021. However, the Russian president said he wanted experts to examine whether the US was compliant with the terms of the treaty. More than 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons are held between the two countries.
All signs point to an improvement of relations between the two nations who were once entangled in the Cold War. Only time will tell whether Trump will use his presidency to bring Putin in from the cold.