President Donald Trump met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, for the first time earlier on Friday. Although it is occurring as part of the Group of 20 summit meeting in the German city of Hamburg, their opening official introduction is bound to take up the lion's share of headlines — and Putin is ready to make sure they declare him as the winner.
Experts on Russian geopolitics told The New York Times that the Kremlin can spin virtually any outcome in their favor. If little is accomplished during the Trump-Putin interactions, they will characterize the American president as weak and hobbled by political difficulties at home. By contrast, if Trump agrees to work with Putin, it will make him look weak because of his willingness to look past the nation's invasion of the Crimea and alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
This doesn't mean that Putin's position isn't without its own weaknesses. He doesn't have much to offer America in terms of a bilateral relationship, aside from some military assistance in Syria. Similarly, because Trump has been accused of softness toward Russia, "if he makes any concessions to Moscow, these accusations will gain strength," in the words of Aleksei Makarkin, deputy head of the Center for Political Technologies.
That said, there seems to be a genuine lack of respect for Trump among Russian officials, at least in terms of his effectiveness as a political leader.
As Andrei V. Kolesnikov, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center, told The Times, "the Kremlin is astonished that the president cannot behave like a real president, like ours, so what can they do in this situation?"