U.S. President Donald Trump has embraced the long-held narrative of his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin — that U.S. foreign policy, rather than Russian actions, is to blame for the deterioration of relations between the two countries — ahead of a summit meeting in Helsinki.
Shortly before the two leaders were to arrive at Finland’s Presidential Palace for a three-hour summit, Mr. Trump tweeted: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
Mr. Putin has been making a similar argument for years, saying it was U.S. actions — including the wars in Kosovo and Iraq, as well as the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe — that brought an end to the post-Cold War détente between Washington and Moscow.
Many in the West see Russia as the main antagonist, pointing chiefly to its 2008 war against Georgia, the 2014 seizure and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, and Moscow’s military support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.
Mr. Trump’s tweet was immediately the top story on Russian state media. The Russian Foreign Ministry re-tweeted Mr. Trump’s remark, adding the comment “we agree.”
The opening of the Helsinki summit looked set to be delayed after Mr. Putin’s plane arrived an hour behind schedule. Mr. Putin has a long history of being late for his meetings with world leaders — including The Queen and Pope Francis — and Mr. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were still waiting at Helsinki’s Hilton hotel half an hour after their motorcade was to have departed for the Presidential Palace.
There was no set agenda for the U.S.-Russian meeting beyond both leaders saying they wanted to create a better relationship between the world’s two biggest nuclear powers.
Some are concerned about Mr. Trump’s decision to meet alone with Mr. Putin for an hour at the start of the summit — with no aides present — worrying that Mr. Trump will make concessions to the Russian leader without his advisers there.
One rumour making the rounds in Helsinki suggested Mr. Trump might make an informal agreement to end Washington’s support for Ukraine in exchange for Mr. Putin stepping away from his alliance with Iran, a country that White House hawks are keen to confront.
Mr. Trump has been reticent to punish Russia with sanctions over its actions in Ukraine and has left open the question of whether he might recognize Moscow’s claim to Crimea.
In addition to Ukraine and the Middle East, the two leaders are also expected to discuss nuclear proliferation. One easy achievement would be to announce the extension of an existing arms control agreement, such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (better known as New START), which is due to expire in 2021.
Mr. Trump has also vowed to ask Mr. Putin about Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election — which on Friday led to the indictment of 12 Russian operatives on charges of hacking into Democratic National Committee computers — though Mr. Trump also said that he didn’t expect to extract a confession from the Russian leader.
Mr. Trump frequently refers to the Department of Justice investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and the Russian government as a “witch hunt.”
“Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said shortly before Mr. Putin’s arrival in Helsinki on Monday. “There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.” – Globe and Mail