Ahead of the highly anticipated Trump-Putin meeting and the NATO summit in Europe later this month, Ambassador Taylor discusses the key issues that will be on the agenda at both, including Russian meddling in U.S. elections and Moscow’s aggressive actions in Europe as well as NATO members’ progress as it relates to U.S. concerns over burden-sharing.
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Tim Farley (host): As we know, President Trump will be making his way overseas. In addition to that, he is going to be having a meeting with Vladimir Putin. We wanted to get some perspective on that, as the president has an upcoming NATO meeting. Joining us is William B. Taylor, U.S. Institute of Peace Executive Vice President, former U.S. ambassador to the Ukraine, and tweeting @USIP. Bill Taylor, welcome back. Thank you for being here today.
William Taylor: Thank you, Tim. It's good to be here.
Tim Farley: Let's talk about NATO. The president has been speaking very openly lately about saying that the United States is paying an unfair amount, more than its share of supporting NATO, and other countries are not. This seems to be a sticking point that has been around forever. I'm wondering, is that something that we expect any kind of resolution to soon?
William Taylor: Turns out, Tim, that there's been progress on that front. And you're exactly right, it's been around for a long time. Every administration has urged our European allies, NATO allies, to increase defense spending. Burden sharing has been the theme for a long time, and it turns out that over the past couple of years there's been progress. The trend of defense spending on the part of our allies has gone up. It's not at the 2% level that is the target, but people and nations in our allied countries are focusing on that target, and they're moving in that direction. Everybody would like it to be faster, but the trend is clearly right, and we ought to take advantage of that. We ought to highlight that.
Tim Farley: So, your sense is that there is actually a reason to expect something good could come out of this NATO meeting.
William Taylor: There is the potential. There's the potential. NATO has actually done some good things over the last two or three years, which this administration can claim some credit for. NATO has been increasing its capabilities in Europe. It had been decreasing its capabilities for a long time, as was rational, as made sense. As it made sense over the time when we thought that NATO and Russia and Europe were going to be calmer. Well, it turns out that Russia had different ideas. They invaded their neighbor. Since then, NATO has taken some serious steps to improve its capabilities, and not just increasing its defense spending, but also actually improving its capabilities on the ground.
Tim Farley: Let's talk a little bit about Turkey and that relationship, because Turkey, it seems, has been making more and more outreach toward Russia, and the whole beginning of NATO was a protection against an encroaching and increasingly imperial Soviet Union. I wonder, what does this mean for Turkey's membership in NATO?
William Taylor: Turkey has a troubled relationship with the alliance and with some of the allies. The alliance is more than a defense alliance. It's also an alliance that espouses values of democratic forms of government, and respect for its own people as well as the people of its neighbors. So as Turkey has become increasingly authoritarian, I think it's fair to say it's been cool toward its allies, its neighbors, and its neighbors have been cool toward it. So, its progress toward European Union, its relationship with the United States ... It is, as you say, apparently purchasing weapons from Russia, which causes NATO some difficulties, just practical difficulties, so I think the tensions with Turkey are going to increase.
Tim Farley: Once again, former Ambassador William B. Taylor with us, from the U.S. Institute of Peace. He's the Executive Vice President. It was not long ago, about a week ago, where the United States National Security Advisor, John Bolton, met with officials and announced that there would be a summit between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin:
John Bolton: It's important for the leaders of these two countries to meet. There are a wide range of issues, despite the differences between us, where both President Trump and President Putin think they may be able to find constructive solutions. I'd like to hear someone say that's a bad idea.
Tim Farley: Well, Bill Taylor, what's on the table for a conversation between these two leaders?
William Taylor: Well, a couple of things, and there are issues that should be addressed. One, of course, is the Russian meddling in U.S. elections, both past and future. That ought to be high, I'm sure it will be high on the agenda. The other, of course, is where does Russia see itself in Europe? Is it an aggressor? It is willing to recognize that its invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine, violates every agreement and every treaty and every understanding that every commitment that the Soviet Union and Russia have made? If those issues — that is, the election meddling, the Ukrainian aggression, the Russian aggression against Ukraine — if those are on the table, and if there are steps that can be taken to resolve those, and commitments to resolve those, then that could be a good thing.
Tim Farley: You know, the expression "trust but verify." You wonder, can you even get past the trust part with Vladimir Putin? The man clearly has an agenda, it seems, by most analysts, that does not match anything other than expanding the Russian influence. Their economy is not even in the top ten in the world, which is kind of interesting because President Trump has said they should be back in the G8. And other than the fact that they have nuclear weapons, one wonders exactly what kind of a stick that Vladimir Putin is swinging right now. Just give us a sense, can there ever be any kind of an understanding with somebody like Vladimir Putin in charge of Russia?
William Taylor: Probably not. Don't trust, but definitely verify. There are things that we would like for them to do, and if they can do them, and verify that they have done them, that is get out of Ukraine, stop meddling in our elections, arms control. There's an agenda that is arising, it's before us, on controlling nuclear weapons and other kinds of weapons. Again, don't trust, but verify agreements. There are things that can be done that can improve our security, and our allies' security, and indeed Russian security, but it's not because we trust Vladimir Putin.
Tim Farley: He's kind of riding high right now. I mean, the World Cup soccer championships are playing well, and I wonder, though, what is the average Russian thinking right now. What is his standing with the people of Russia?
William Taylor: Turns out we know something about the answer to that. Over the last week or so, the standing of Vladimir Putin in the eyes of ordinary Russians has gone down. It's gone down like 10 or 15, 20% in credible polls. Somewhat credible polls, which makes it even more amazing. If you're a normal Russian, out in the middle of Russia, and you get a phone call saying, "Do you support Vladimir Putin?" you'd be inclined to say yes. However, those polls have dropped. They've dropped by, as I say, 10 or 15% over the past week because of the state of the economy. The Russian economy is not doing well. The sanctions that the Americans and the Europeans and the whole world has put on, that have put on the Russian economy because of their invasion of Ukraine, are really starting to bite. So his popularity, his support among Russians is falling.
Tim Farley: We will see how this all turns out once that meeting takes place. William B. Taylor, former ambassador, thank you once again for joining us on POTUS this morning.
William Taylor: Glad to be here, Tim. Thank you.
Tim Farley: Bill Taylor, U.S. Institute of Peace Executive Vice President, former ambassador to the Ukraine, joining us to talk about the upcoming summit that will be happening. This is the NATO summit as well as the meeting between President Putin and President Trump. The Twitter handle is @USIP.