Putin-Trump encounters at G20 & the 'scoop' that wasn’t

Bryan MacDonald
Bryan MacDonald is an Irish journalist based in Russia.
Putin-Trump encounters at G20 & the 'scoop' that wasn’t
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump did absolutely nothing wrong by having an informal chat at a G20 dinner. The irresponsible media delirium now amounts to endlessly flogging a dead horse.

At the G20 summit in Germany earlier this month, Putin and Trump had three encounters. The first, a brief handshake, the second a pre-arranged meeting, with their respective foreign emissaries present, and the third a chat at the traditional evening banquet for heads of state and their spouses.

And now the latter pull-aside has become a major issue in the US. The Washington Post's Anne Applebaum calls it treason and Democrat Congressman Ted Lieu has labeled it nefarious.

Indeed, he also believes Rex Tillerson should have been present, disregarding the fact of how Trump and his Secretary of State are not married, to each other.

What we know is this. The leaders of the planet’s two military superpowers held a conversation, in full view of everyone in the room, at a gathering precisely designed to encourage off-the-record chinwags and bonhomie. And this was something which had already been in the public domain for over a week before a chap named Ian Bremmer turned it into a ‘scoop’ which wasn't a scoop.

Because every half competent hack on the Russia beat already knew about the after-dark exchange. But didn’t find it unusual, given it’s the whole point of these summits. And Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had often privately nattered away with Putin, and the interregnum Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

First Look

Indeed, during the G20, Buzzfeed’s Alberto Nardelli tweeted about the "long chat," and nobody batted so much as an eyelid. Perhaps his mistake was not presenting it as something sinister because once Bremmer had packaged his “revelation” with darker language, he couldn’t be got off the media.

Within a day of “revealing” the “news” to Charlie Rose’s Bloomberg TV show on Monday night, Bremmer was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and “Rachel Maddow” programs, FOX’s “America’s Newsroom,”“This Morning” on CBS and also BBC World News. And he’d also managed to pen an op-ed for Time Magazine on the topic. And these appearances were easy to discover because the shameless self-promoter retweeted them all on his Twitter feed. Along with a few congratulatory messages from the likes of Michael McFaul and Brian Stelter.

However, not only hadn't Bremmer pulled off a ‘scoop,’ as Stelter labeled it, it was also a total nothing-burger. As was the secondary hysteria about only Putin’s translator being present, and not Trumps. You see, these banquets are, de-facto, held in English, with non-fluent leaders typically bringing an interpreter along for this language only. Otherwise, given the thirteen different native tongues present, each guest would need a dozen of them. And if two is company, and three is a crowd, that’s something off the scale entirely.

The impracticality of mooching around with a phalanx of linguists is why Obama was pictured at the 2015 G20, in Ankara, using Putin’s man to translate. While Susan Rice was also present, she can’t speak Russian so wouldn’t have been able to verify whether her bosses’ comments were being faithfully relayed. There was nothing sinister about that, and there’s nothing malevolent about this either.

The reason the point is labored is due to the way Bremmer has attempted to twist it as something malefic, noxious and wicked. He wrote in Time: “Much more concerning is the fact that the entire conversation between the two heads of state is predicated on the trustworthiness and abilities of the Russian translator — a translator who owes his allegiance to Putin and Putin alone. For all we know, Trump may have been having a completely different conversation than the one he thought he was having.”

Misleading Steers

But this is claptrap. Because why in the name of all that’s rational, would Putin’s assistant want to invent a different reality? Especially given he’d be eventually found out, and it’d cost him his job. Furthermore, the same analyst expressed no difficulty with Obama relying on a Russian interpreter in the past. As Bremmer continues: “More to the point: Trump has put himself in a compromising position. If he said something that he doesn’t understand could be used against him or the United States, the Russians can leak it.” But Obama might have been accused of the same in 2015. Which means it’s clear what Bremmer’s real issue is that he liked Obama and dislikes Trump so holds the pair to differing standards.

Incidentally, the op-ed begins with the words “as I first revealed this week, it turns out there were two meetings between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.” But Bremmer didn’t reveal anything. Indeed, if anyone deserves credit, it’s the European journalist Nardelli.

However, the charade isn’t about ethics or news values. Rather it’s a bounder sensing a chance to build his profile, and that of his consultancy service, by exploiting the Russia-paranoia currently bedeviling American discourse. Something backed-up by the five Tweets the chancer posted pushing the “Eurasia Group” on the 18th and 19th of July, in between the retweets of the numerous TV appearances.

Viewed from this side of the planet, the hysteria looks increasingly ridiculous. And it’s now reached the stage where US opinion formers seem to believe the President needs a chaperone when he meets with other leaders. Which is absurd. Especially given Trump is no fool, and he’s probably a lot smarter than the vast majority of these pundits. Which explains why he’s doing the job and they are talking about him doing it.

Bremmer’s antics in recent days were beneath contempt and served to further damage US-Russian relations. But he’s not alone in this pursuit. There’s no shortage of yacking mountebanks, shameless fibbers and bellicose carpetbaggers on this beat. And right now it’s all gravy for these quacks.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.