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The summit offered up a graphic reaffirmation of what was already known

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THE story of the meeting between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki has a beginning and an end, but no middle.

It began with a statement from the American president. The lowly state of Russo-American relations, he tweeted, was not the fault of the Russian government for seizing Crimea, shooting down a passenger airliner, interfering in America’s presidential election or using a banned nerve agent to kill citizens of a close ally on its own soil. No, it was the fault “of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt”.

It ended with a joint press conference that John McCain, a Republican senator, described as, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

In the middle was a void, in which the two presidents met with nobody else in the room but their interpreters. For those who watch Mr Trump daily and have observed his habit of being confrontational with other people when at a safe distance and then seeking to please them when face-to-face, this encounter seemed freighted with risk. Would he give away Crimea by mistake? Would he commit to some Russian-led military initiative in Syria? In fact this part seems to have gone relatively well. Both presidents reported that they talked about nuclear weapons, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) which covers short- and medium-range nuclear missiles. The chances of them signing an extension to the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) are perhaps greater now than they were before the meeting. That is not nothing.

Yet it is hard to pinpoint a decisive change in American foreign policy that came out of the Helsinki meeting. What it offered instead was a reaffirmation of things that America already knew about its president. Mr Trump thinks that the world benefits when America and Russia have close relations, and that “the United States has been foolish” on this point. He takes the judgment of America’s intelligence services that Russia intervened in the 2016 election campaign to be a personal insult, an accusation that he needed outside help to beat Hillary Clinton. He will readily believe the word of a former KGB agent over the views of the CIA or FBI on this point. Americans who question this are liable to be described by their president as enemies of the people. The probe run by Robert Mueller is “a disaster for our country”. It was jarring to see Mr Trump say these things standing on a podium next to Mr Putin, but they are all things he has said before, countless times. This is not a performance. He really means it.

One part, near the end of the press conference, is worth quoting at length to give an unmediated sample of the president’s thinking: Bikkembergs STIK-ER 922 men's Shoes (Trainers) in Mjus CAFE women's Low Ankle Boots in Brown, Saucony Jazz grey suede and nylon sneaker women's Shoes (Trainers) in Grey, Koah JESSIE women's Mid Boots in Black, Birkenstock ARIZONA men's Mules / Casual Shoes in Camper JEDI women's Outdoor Shoes in Black, Calzamedi FASHION women's Low Ankle Boots in Carlington EMRONE men's Casual Shoes in Black, United nude WEST women's Low Boots in n.d.c. ROSY women's High Boots in Betty London HANIFA women's Shoes (Pumps / Ballerinas) in adidas CLIMA COOL 2 women's Shoes (Trainers) in Mustang BILLIE women's Mid Boots in Blue, Esska TILLY women's Low Boots in Yurban ETOUNATE women's Shoes (Trainers) in Clarks UN VALENCIA women's Sandals in Black, FitFlop FF-LUX CHELSEA BOOT women's Mid Boots in Chie Mihara JACARA women's Court Shoes in Jonak DENISE women's Mid Boots in Brown, Nike AIR MAX 90 men's Shoes (Trainers) in White, Marc by Marc Jacobs 626927 women's Low Boots in Silver, Roberto Cavalli YPS490-PC219-D0249 women's Court Shoes in Black, Victoria CHELSEA SERRAJE PIEL METALIZ women's Mid Boots in Black, Dune TROONBRIDGE women's High Boots in Black, Diadora GAME L LOW HOLOGRAM women's Shoes (Trainers) in White, Converse canvas shoes high women's Shoes (High-top Trainers) in Vagabond KASAI women's Shoes (Trainers) in No Box ALMA women's Shoes (Trainers) in Blue, See by Chloé SB24200 women's Sandals in Brown, Camper NAUTICO men's Boat Shoes in Brown For readers who are rubbing their eyes at this point, it is important not to lose sight of a few things that will endure once this summit is over. Mr Mueller’s probe has gathered so much detail about the activities of the GRU that its future activities would seem to be compromised. Russia’s economy is weak, and American sanctions will not be lifted by the Senate anytime soon. Some of America’s institutions are not doing their job. But some of them quietly are.

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