MOSCOW – Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will meet in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16 for their first bilateral summit as the leaders seek to reverse a downward spiral in relations that has been exacerbated by findings that Russia meddled in U.S. elections.
The Kremlin and the White House announced the meeting in simultaneous statements issued Thursday, a day after Putin hosted U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton for talks in Moscow.
Their unusually warm discussions at the Kremlin Wednesday came amid the worst tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals since the Cold War.
Trump has pushed for improving the relationship — inviting Putin to the White House in a March phone call after the Russian leader’s re-election to a fourth term as president. The summit itself is likely to boost Kremlin efforts to ease its international isolation, though officials had played down hopes of any breakthrough.
“Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can make at least the first steps toward restoring full-scale relations between our countries,” Putin told Bolton at the opening of their meeting Wednesday.
Trump had startled other Western leaders earlier this month when he said the Group of Seven should re-admit Russia on the eve of its annual summit in Quebec. The group of industrialized democracies suspended Russia’s participation after its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
The announcement that U.S. and Russian leaders will meet comes as Trump faces relentless pressure over the U.S. probe into Russia meddling and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it. Putin has said there was no meddling, and Trump has called the continuing investigation a “witch hunt.” Russia “continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Trump tweeted on Thursday.
Vice President Mike Pence said Wednesday that he expects Trump to discuss Russian interference in U.S. elections and the Kremlin’s military incursions into Ukraine and Syria, along with other potentially touchy subjects, when he meets with Putin.
“There are a broad range of issues the president’s going to talk about that need to be addressed,” Pence said in an interview with Bloomberg News aboard Air Force Two on Wednesday. They include the “economic relationship with the United States and Russia and countries of the world.”
Trump has said he’s confronted Putin about Russia’s involvement in the election in previous meetings. He has enacted new sanctions Congress ordered against Russia to punish the country for its election activities and hasn’t lifted sanctions put in place by his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The summit “is of huge significance,” Kremlin foreign-policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters Wednesday. “It will be the main international event of the summer.”
Bolton said it’s “not unusual” for Trump and Putin to meet because other world leaders have also had such talks with Putin. Bolton, though, added that “the summit itself is a deliverable.”
“I don’t think that we expect necessarily any specific outcomes or decisions” from the meeting, Bolton said. “It’s important after the length of time that has gone by without a bilateral summit like this to allow them to cover all the issues they choose.”
The summit is, above all, a symbolic achievement for Putin as he seeks to put ties with the U.S. back on track with Trump in the White House, said Andrey Kortunov, head of the Russian International Affairs Council, a research group set up by the Kremlin.
“It means he can reverse the trend in our relations, ensure they have hit the bottom and legitimize them once again,” Kortunov said in an interview in Moscow.