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Germans scared, Chinese relaxed: Trump-Putin meeting reverberates around world

President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for the meeting in Helsinki on Monday. Copyright Brendan Smialowski
Copyright Brendan Smialowski
By Alexander Smith and Carlo Angerer and Eric Baculinao and Reuters and Associated Press with NBC News World News
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One former German ambassador summed up the mood: "Europeans are really scared."


LONDON — The press conference between presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin prompted widespread shock and derision across the United States.

The extraordinary appearance — widely seen to have undermined American institutions while empowering a rival — also reverberated outside the U.S.


One country where the verdict appeared to echo the shock felt across the U.S. was Germany.

Monday's press conference in Helsinki saw Trump side with Putin against the American intelligence agencies over whether Moscow meddled in his election to the White House.

Wolfgang Ischinger‏, Germany's former ambassador to the U.S., retweeted ex-CIA Director John Brennan and added that "Europeans are really scared."

The tabloid Bild carried the Tuesday headline: "Reactions to Trump-Putin meeting: Too weak, too submissive — a disgrace!"

Munich-based newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that "for Europe, this spells trouble," while a comment piece in Spiegel magazine said Trump offered "bromance rather than clear words" for Putin.

Trump's meetings with Putin capped a whirlwind six days in which he caused chaos at the NATO summit in Brussels by threatening allies over spending and singling out Germany about a pipeline deal with Russia.


"We can no longer completely rely on the White House," Germany Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group Monday. "To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe."


While Trump was criticized at home, unsurprisingly Putin returned to almost unanimous praise.

Most Western analysts agreed that the Russian leader had achieved his goals merely by securing the one-on-one meeting, a step toward normalizing relations after interventions in Ukraine, the U.S. presidential election and other alleged transgressions.

The Russian economy has been struggling after it was hit with international sanctions for its 2014 annexation of Crimea, its support for separatists fighting the government in eastern Ukraine and alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Before Trump and Putin even sat down, the Russian foreign ministry raised eyebrows by replying to a Trump tweet about the investigation into election meddling.

Russian headlines afterward were triumphant.


"The West's attempts to isolate Russia failed," read state-run newspaper Rossiisskaya Gazeta, according to a translation by Reuters.

In Moscow, there was a recognition that the summit did not produce any breakthroughs on issues such as Syria, Ukraine or arms control. Instead, the focus was on the symbolism of the leader of the world's remaining superpower sitting down one-on-one with Putin after years of international isolation.

The front pages of Russia\'s main newspapers featuring pictures of the summit.
The front pages of Russia\'s main newspapers featuring pictures of the summit.Mladen Antonov

"The attention of the whole world is focused today on Helsinki and it's crystal clear to everyone: The fate of the world is being decided between Russia and the United States, the leaders of the two major powers of our planet are meeting," Alexey Pushkov, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament, tweeted Monday.

Putin faces little genuine political opposition and controls much of the press in his country.


United Kingdom and France

Sandwiched between the NATO meeting and the summit in Helsinki, Trump caused mayhem during a four-day visit to Britain.

He used a surprise interview with The Sun newspaper to trash Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plans and suggest she had killed the possibility of signing a trade deal with the U.S.

He also sparked widespread protests across the country, including some of the largest demonstrations London has seen in years.

While Helsinki played out, British lawmakers been busy dealing with their own Brexit-related politics this week. But the verdict of the U.K. press following the Trump-Putin meeting has been largely scathing.


"Putin's Poodle," read the headline in the Mirror tabloid, while broadsheets The Times and The Guardian focused on the backlash in the U.S.

France, still giddy after its World Cup final win Sunday, still found space on the homepage of leading newspaper Le Monde to report: "Vladimir Putin dominates the Helsinki match against Donald Trump."

The Baltics and Ukraine

Historically, the Western allies most nervous about the prospect of Russian aggression and meddling have been the Baltic states.

Still, reaction in Estonia, the most northerly Baltic nation, was more moderate than in other parts of Europe.


"The headlines of the three biggest Estonian dailies all agree that the meeting … whilst being a resounding victory for Putin, did not yield anything particularly unexpected or unpleasant," read a roundup by the website ERR News.

Eesti Päevaleht, an Estonian newspaper, wrote that ''this time we got lucky in Helsinki." Like others it appeared relieved that, symbolism aside, no specific policies were agreed upon.

Another hotbed of Russian-related tension is Ukraine, which has lost Crimea to annexation by Moscow and a large chunk of its east to a conflict with Kremlin-backed rebels.

Trump made no mention of Crimea nor the war in Ukraine during the press conference with Putin. And he has reportedly suggested that Crimea should be handed to the Russians because people there speak its language.


Following the summit in Helsinki, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tweeted: "We are ready to defend our land even if we must do it alone, without international support."


On the surface, the government in Beijing appeared largely unfazed by the summit.

"We paid close attention to the Russian-U.S. leaders' meeting in Helsinki yesterday," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday. "We hope that Russia and the United States will strengthen communication and expand cooperation."

Hua said this hope was altruistic in that it would have "no effect" on U.S.-China relations but rather it would "benefit the world's peace and development causes and help the international community to meet common challenges."


But Beijing's interest may run a little deeper than official comments indicate, according to analysts.

John Ferguson, director of global forecasting at analysis firm Economist Intelligence Unit, told CNBC before thehand that Chinese officials would be looking for clues on how to deal with Trump in future talks.

China was also a topic of discussion at the meeting.

"We'll be talking a little bit about China (and) our mutual friend President Xi Jinping," Trump told reporters while sat next to Putin on Monday.

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