As if President Donald Trump's relationship with Russia wasn't suspicious enough, he's about to take it one step further.
On July 16, Trump will meet one-on-one with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. The specifics of what the two will discuss is still unknown, but the potential danger of the meeting should have Americans, including Trump, on edge.
Russia isn't known for being a reliable ally to the U.S., and with an ongoing investigation into allegations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, Trump, who many believe knew of the Russian meddling, is risking his ability to make the relationship seem honest by meeting in private.
Although a reasonable person would likely at least seek perceived honesty, the president isn't known for being reasonable in any sense. In truth, he probably doesn't care how dubious the meeting seems, given his supporters’ pushback in wrongdoing during the 2016 election. Instead of respecting reasonable investigations, he recently argued that Hillary Clinton should be in the hot seat instead.
"Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!" Trump tweeted on June 28.
Trump, the egocentric person he is, does care about what he looks like, and most notably, he loves to look like a good negotiator and businessman. Potentially, the meeting may amount to very little, but the possibility for embarrassment to besiege Trump is high.
"It is no secret that the President doesn't do well one-on-one with Vladimir Putin," Samantha Vinograd, a senior National Security Council staffer in the Obama administration, said to CNN. "If he is sitting across the table from Vladimir Putin, who is a highly skilled manipulator and negotiator, the chances are things could go off the rails."
As with most of Trump's presidential duties, anything can happen.
Looking at Trump's meeting with Kim Jong Un on June 12 is another reason to worry. Trump is clearly lost when it comes to speaking with tough leaders in difficult situations, so much so that he signed a vague agreement on nuclear diplomacy that North Korea broke the next week.
Trump, despite his deep desire to be seen a tough guy, is obviously not perceived that way by other world leaders when it counts.
And, although it is not entirely evident, there is something on the line in this meeting. Russia, like North Korea, is actively working throughout the world.
In March, England blamed the Kremlin for poisoning a former Russian spy and his daughter. In Syria, Russia is constantly working with President Bashar al-Assad to facilitate the seven-year-old civil war taking place there. There is the ongoing conflict over Russia’s annexation of the Ukraine, which received ample criticism from the international community.
And, to top it all off, Russia likely meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and no evidence shows that they can't or won’t do it again.
The list could go on, but the point is that Russia is not a state that Trump should be comfortable tolerating right now. But his lack of diplomatic deftness dealing with North Korea gives little hope that he will be able to be tough with Putin.
Furthermore, this meeting and Trump's rhetoric around it is simply confusing. In recent months, Trump has acted tough on Russia by adding sanctions and banning 60 diplomats in the wake of the aforementioned poisoning of Sergei Skripal, but Trump still refuses to condemn Russia with words and even goes so far as to try to publicly exonerate their election meddling.
The best that can be hoped for from Trump’s meeting is a thawing of relations with a man who can't be trusted. It's nothing to celebrate, and the negatives will be quick to follow.