A first date is always awkward. And indeed Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s first official meeting was exactly that: awkward.
It’s likely that other participants in the G20 summit also had uncomfortable encounters with Trump and Putin – two of the least popular world leaders (according to a recent Pew poll, they enjoy respectively 22 and 27 percent support internationally, while Angela Merkel by comparison – 42 percent). And it was entertaining to watch the G20 leaders gathering and chatting amicably, while Putin and Trump went straight to their respective seats, faces buried in their papers, in intense preparation for their speeches.
But even more interesting was the long-awaited personal meeting between the two.
The day before, Trump had surprised many by visiting Warsaw (the capital of Poland, where Putin enjoys about four percent support) and denouncing Russia‘s interference in the domestic affairs of Eastern Europe. During his speech there, he referred to Poland’s fate in the beginning of World War II when both Germany and the USSR invaded it.
This historical fact is as important to the Poles and their national memory, as it is painful to today’s Russian authorities (political commentators close to Kremlin like to interpret this fact as the USSR saving Poland from Nazi invasion). In other words, Trump’s speech in Poland was supposed to demonstrate that despite all speculation, the US would continue to back its European allies and defend them from Russian aggression.
In this sense, Putin’s showing up at the G20 and meeting Trump produced the same discomforting feeling as when the ex-lover of the bride shows up to her wedding. And this uncomfortable sentiment only increased as the meeting went on. In the beginning, their meeting was supposed to last only a half-hour, but it stretched to two, and even Melania Trump was not able to put an end to it.