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Masha Gessen On Trump-Putin Meeting


We're following President Trump's very busy day today. He's going to be meeting with Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, this morning outside London. He's also going to be having tea with Queen Elizabeth. And then he's heading to Scotland to visit his golf resort. He's also going to be getting ready for a big meeting on Monday. That is when the president heads to Finland to sit down with Russia's President Vladimir Putin. They are expected to have a private meeting. And that fact has been making some Western policy makers a bit uneasy. To talk about this meeting, we have Masha Gessen on the line with us. She is a Russian-born journalist who writes for The New Yorker. And she has been very critical of both of these leaders, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Masha Gessen, welcome back to the program.

MASHA GESSEN: Thank you. Good to be here.

GREENE: Well, so what are you expecting from this meeting in Helsinki between the leaders of Russia and the United States?

GESSEN: Well, you know, it's hard to make predictions about what two people who are basically habitual liars - and that's the most important thing we can say about them at this point - can say about something that happened between them in private. From what I understand, it's not at all unheard of for two leaders to meet in private before a summit. The problem with this meeting is that we will really, really never know what happened.

GREENE: Wow. That's pretty strong language. I guess it's worth saying there are a lot of people in the United States who don't see Donald Trump is a habitual liar and who are are big fans of his. What worries you the most in terms of what might be said or agreed upon in this meeting that you're suggesting we might never know about?

GESSEN: I'm actually not terribly worried about what might be said. I'm actually more worried about the very fact of sort of - you know, one of the final nails in the coffin of transparency and accountability. I actually am convinced that the things that ought to be brought up in the meeting are not going to be brought up.

GREENE: It sounds like you don't think Putin needs to get anything out of this meeting. So what would make this a success for him?

GESSEN: Oh, just the fact of the meeting. The fact of its happening legitimizes Putin, legitimizes his war in Ukraine, legitimizes his war in Syria and positions him once again sort of as one of the leaders of what he imagines to be, potentially, a bipolar world.

GREENE: Do you think, Masha Gessen, that Putin has managed to convince President Trump that there really were no Russia attempts to meddle in the United States election in 2016?

GESSEN: I don't imagine that Donald Trump took a lot of convincing. I think that at this point, he's more invested in the narrative that there was no Russian interference in the election than Putin is.

GREENE: Even though U.S. intelligence agencies, I mean, have come to the clear conclusion there was Russian meddling. I mean, couldn't Donald Trump be saying that - you know, sort of framing his argument in a way? But you're saying that he actually really might believe Vladimir Putin when Putin makes this argument.

GESSEN: I think that Donald Trump - you know, again, Putin is clearly one of his favorite people in the world. I mean, I think that his clear affinity for Putin is probably an expression of sincere admiration, sincere feeling. Putin is the kind of leader that Trump envisions himself being. And I think that he would like to believe that his electoral victory was was his alone and that anything that comes out of Vladimir Putin's mouth is the God-honest truth.

GREENE: Masha Gessen is the author of "The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia." And she joined us this morning as the leaders of Russia and the United States get ready to meet in Helsinki on Monday. Masha Gessen, always nice having you. Thank you.

GESSEN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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