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Trump, Putin to Meet in Helsinki After NATO Summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin and National Security Advisor John Bolton meet at the Kremlin on June 27, 2018. (Sergey Guneev/Sputnik via AP)

WASHINGTON — The White House announced today that President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are planning to sit down for a meeting July 16 in Helsinki, Finland.

“The two leaders will discuss relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues,” the White House said, elaborating no further.

National Security Advisor John Bolton met with Putin in Moscow on Wednesday to discuss the framework for the summit.

“To begin with, I regret to have to point out that Russian-U.S. relations are not at their best. … I believe that this is largely due to sharp domestic political strife in the United States, but your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can make at least the first steps toward restoring full-fledged relations between our states,” Putin told Bolton, according to the Kremlin.

At a press conference after the meeting, Bolton refused to answer reporters’ questions about his own past sharp criticism of the Putin regime.

“A lot of the president’s critics have tried to make political capital out of theories and suppositions that have turned out to be completely erroneous,” Bolton told reporters. “I think the president determined that despite the political noise in the United States that direct communication between him and President Putin was in the interests of the United States.”

Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that the meeting “has been planned for a long time” via “back channels” and promises to “be the main international event of the summer.”

It comes after the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, said Wednesday that it’s “entirely possible for a U.S.–Russia summit to be constructive, but I’m very concerned that after his recent performance at the G-7 in Canada, President Trump will once again clash with our closest allies at the upcoming NATO summit, only to then engage in fawning photo ops with President Putin afterwards.”

“I’m very concerned President Trump can’t help but try to please another autocrat at the expense of our democracy,” Coons said. “It is my hope that President Trump will take a different approach and stand up for America’s interests and values.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN on Monday that he has “no problem” with Trump and Putin sitting down, yet Trump has to “go in from a position of strength.”

“Keep in mind, the Russians said if you bomb Assad this is the beginning of World War III. We bombed Assad, they did absolutely nothing because the Russians don’t have the capability,” Kinzinger said. “This is not the old Soviet Union. The president can go in from a strong position and say, ‘Here’s what I want from you guys. You extract yourself from Syria. Here’s some deals we can work, but this is a no-go any more.’ So, we’ll see what happens.”