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Press review Swiss media slam Trump, ‘Putin’s useful idiot’

Trump and Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks at US President Donald Trump during their press conference in Helsinki on Monday

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Swiss newspapers have joined US politicians of all colours in lambasting US President Donald Trump, who at a summit in Helsinki on Monday sided with long-time enemy Russia over his own intelligence agencies. 

“The betrayal of Helsinki” was the headline of the editorialexternal link in Zurich’s Tages-Anzeiger. “America First? As if. Donald Trump sounded more like Putin’s lawyer.” 

The paper wondered what a good summit between the two leaders could have looked like. Trump, it said, “who boasts about his bluntness”, could have clearly and unequivocally criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin for interfering in US elections and demanded that further attacks on the US stop. 

“But Trump chose another path. At the press conference not only did he refuse to hold Putin to account before the eyes of the world. He positioned himself much closer to Russia and declared, clearer than ever, that he – the President of the United States – believed the leader of Russia more than he believed his own country’s intelligence services.” 

Regarding the consensus of American intelligence agencies and both political parties that Russia meddled in the 2016 US electionexternal link to his benefit, Trump seemed to accept Putin’s insistence that Moscow’s hands were clean. 

Trump said: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” 

Trump’s behaviour in Helsinki, the Tages-Anzeiger said, was “for a president of the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan a betrayal of one’s own history – a betrayal of one’s own country”. 

The summit was without doubt a victory for Putin, it concluded. “For his interference in US elections, he was rewarded by Trump with a grandiose summit and flattery, and he achieved what he had long strived for: the return of Russia to the world stage.”

‘Useful idiot’ 

In French-speaking Switzerland, the Tribune de Genève noted that Putin “didn’t need to say much to get what he was looking for. His American counterpart, on his summer tour of Europe, had already done good work in this sense”. 

Earlier in the month Trump had berated allies, questioned the value of the NATO alliance and demeaned leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Theresa May. 

“The Kremlin wants two things: to divide the West and to reinforce its zone of influence. [In Helsinki] Donald Trump was basically playing the role of the useful idiot,” the paper said in an editorialexternal link

“Wanting to improve relations with Russia is a good idea which would certainly be shared by the Europeans. Still, they mustn’t bear the brunt of it.” 

Vague promises 

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) agreed that it “undoubtedly makes sense for a line of communication to exist between the world’s two largest nuclear powers, as it did during the darkest days of the Cold War. However, in order to achieve anything via dialogue, there needs to be a clear picture on the American side of the dividing opposites and a realistic strategy to deal with them. Neither is discernible in the current tenant of the White House.” 

Trump, the NZZ said, was the first US president who approached the head of an enemy power and “in full denial of reality dragged his own country through the mud”. 

Before he arrived, Trump had blamed American “foolishness and stupidity” for the poor state of US-Russia relations and denounced the US news media as the “enemy of the people”, despite constitutional protections for freedom of the press. 

“What Trump is trying to achieve by his peculiar favour-currying with Putin remains a mystery,” the NZZ said. “The one thing that’s certain is that the Kremlin couldn’t dream of having a better figure in the White House – a man who in practically no time has not only managed to shatter the Western alliance and poison relations with Berlin, London and Paris but also undermines US institutions and at the same time naively overlooks how Russia is outplaying the US on the Middle East chessboard.” 

If Trump could show some sort of benefit – a concrete concession, for example, from Moscow – then this strategy could be half-justifiable, the paper concluded. “But as we saw with his bombastic summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Trump is also returning from Helsinki with just a vague promise of progress in the future.”

US reaction

Fellow Republican politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year-and-a-half of turmoil, but he was assailed as rarely before as he returned home on Monday night from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin. 

Senator John McCain of Arizona was most outspoken, declaring that Trump made a “conscious choice to defend a tyrant” and achieved “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory”. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who rarely criticises Trump, stressed there was “no question” that Russia had interfered. 

Even staunch Trump backer Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, called Trump’s comments “the most serious mistake of his presidency” and said they “must be corrected – immediately”. 

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama, called Trump’s words “nothing short of treasonous”. Brennan tweeted: “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

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