Trump And Putin To Hold First Summit Talks As Twitchy West Looks On

Helsinki: After months of exchanging long-distance compliments, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin sit down on Monday for their first ever summit, a potential political minefield at home for the  US president but a geopolitical win for his Russian counterpart.

Neither side expects major breakthroughs from the talks in the Finnish capital beyond warm words, an agreement to begin repairing battered US-Russia relations, and maybe a deal to start talks on issues such as nuclear arms control and Syria.

The two men, who have praised each other's leadership qualities from afar, could also agree to start restocking their respective embassies and returning confiscated diplomatic property after a wave of expulsions and retaliatory action prompted by the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

Ahead of the summit, both sides talked down the event, however, with Trump telling CBS he was going in with "low expectations" and John Bolton, Trump's national security adviser, saying on ABC's "This Week" that the United States was not looking for "deliverables" and that the meeting would be "unstructured."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia's RT TV station that he also had low expectations. He would regard the summit as a success if there was an agreement to merely reopen severed lines of communications across the board, he said.

For Putin, the fact that the summit is even happening despite Russia's semi-pariah status among some Americans and  US allies is a geopolitical win because, in Russian eyes, it shows that Washington recognises Moscow as a great power whose interests must be taken into account.

For Russia, it is also a powerful sign that Western efforts to isolate Moscow have failed.

But for Trump, whose White House victory was actively supported by 12 Russian military intelligence agents, according to a recent  US indictment, and whose entourage is still being investigated for possible collusion with Moscow, the meeting is freighted with domestic political risk.

"We can say confidently that Putin's political risks are lower than those of President Trump," said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a Moscow think-tank close to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"Putin has less to lose and more to gain because he does not have a domestic opposition, a potentially hostile legislature, and is not begin investigated like Trump. But if you look at the  US media they mostly focus on potential risks. Nobody there really believes that any good can come out of this summit."

A probe over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016  US presidential election has clouded Trump's presidency. Trump has denied any collusion with the Russians by his campaign and Russia denies it meddled.

The Helsinki summit is the capstone to a nearly week-long trip for Trump during which he has sown doubts about his commitment to the NATO military alliance, Washington's so-called special relationship with Britain, and  US relations with the European Union that he called "a foe" in trade terms.

Against that backdrop and swirling uncertainty about what Trump might do or say next, his summit with Putin, which will include a one-on-one session with the Russian leader with only interpreters present, has both  US allies and  US politicians worried lest he make hasty and sweeping concessions.

 US Fears

Some politicians in the West believe the summit is happening at one of the most crucial junctures for the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. Certain NATO allies fear Putin might seek a grand deal that would undermine the  US-led transatlantic alliance.

Trump has said that he will raise the alleged Russian election meddling with Putin but does not expect to get anywhere, has spoken vaguely about the possibility of halting NATO war games in the Baltic region, and has said repeatedly that it would be good if he could get along with Russia.

When asked last month if he would recognise Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, he replied: "We're going to have to see."

On Friday, 12 Russians were indicted on charges of interfering in the  US 2016 election, a development that prompted some Democratic leaders to call on Trump to cancel the Putin meeting, a demand he quickly dismissed.

On the summit's eve, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, a political opponent of Trump, said he had told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo the Helsinki meeting was a mistake.

"First, I don't believe the meeting should take place but if it is going to happen, President Trump must press Putin hard on the issue of election interference. He can't simply raise it, accept Putin's denial and then let him off the hook," Schumer said in a statement.

"Second, the President must demand that the 12 Russians named in the indictment be sent to the  US to stand trial. And third, President Trump should not agree to weaken, lift, or curtail any of the sanctions on Russia."

Any Trump request for Russia to extradite hacking suspects is likely to fall on deaf ears, however, as the Kremlin, citing the Russian constitution, has a policy of not handing over suspects wanted by other countries.

Many Western politicians remain angry over Russia's annexation of Crimea, its backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, and its support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad.

Other accusations, denied by Moscow, include that it meddled in European politics, supplied the weapon that shot down a passenger plane in 2014 over Ukraine, and was behind the poisoning of the former Russian spy in Britain.

Moscow would love to have  US sanctions - initially imposed over the Crimea annexation - eased and eventually lifted. But most in Russia do not expect the summit to produce such an outcome.

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‘The best World Cup in history proved Russia to be truly a football country’ – FIFA President

Russia has hosted “the best” World Cup in history, which has changed the perception of the country around the world and proved it to be “truly” a football nation, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, ahead of Sunday’s final.

“This World Cup has proved that Russia is a truly football country. Thank you, Russia, for hosting the best World Cup in history,” Infantino said, at a gala concert at Moscow's Bolshoi Theater, Sputnik reports.

Thanking the host country multiple times in Russian, Infantino noted that the tournament changed public perceptions of the country throughout the world. Speaking at the podium in front of honored guests, FIFA’s chief tried to imbue the famous concert hall with a Luzhniki stadium atmosphere, by leading the audience in the cheer “Rossiya, Rossiya, Rossiya!”

Addressing the audience at the opening of the gala concert in honor of the tournament, Russian President Vladimir Putin noted that all anti-Russia myths, disseminated by critics, have collapsed following the 2018 FIFA World Cup success.

 
Stressing that Russia’s efforts were praised alike by athletes, by media representatives, and by fans, Putin noted that the entire country is “thankful for the millions of kind words that the World Cup guests said about Russia and our people.”

“We’re glad that they liked our hospitality and openness, nature, culture, traditions of our big country,” the president continued. “We are glad that our guests saw everything with their own eyes, that myths and prejudices have collapsed.”

Putin also promised to look into creating a “comfortable visa regime” for fans, who “have fallen in love with Russia,” and want to return with their families.

READ MORE: Football fans smashed stereotypes about Russia through social media – Putin

The month-long tournament concludes at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium on Sunday, where Croatia will clash with France for the title of World Champion.

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Trump To Press Putin On Russia's Denial Of Meddling In US Elections

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump will press Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Moscow's denial of meddling in the 2016 presidential election when the two leaders meet next month, national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday.

Bolton said he discussed concerns about Russian meddling in the U.S. elections with Putin during his visit to Moscow on Wednesday, citing activities targeting congressional elections coming up in November as well as the 2016 presidential contest.

"The election meddling issue was definitely something we talked about," Bolton told the CBS "Face the Nation" program. Bolton said he brought up both the 2016 election and Russian activities in upcoming congressional elections.

Speaking about the meddling, Bolton told the "Fox News Sunday" program: "I think it's something that we're concerned about. That's why the president is going to speak with him about it again."

He said Putin told him that "there was no meddling in 2016 by the Russian state."

Bolton said that was different from the Russians saying there was no meddling at all.

"I think the president will have to pursue that further and I think that's one reason why he and President Putin need to have this conversation," he said, adding that "Vladimir Putin is the one who makes the decisions and I think our leader needs to speak with him."

Trump's praise of Putin as a strong leader and his stated desire to forge better relations with Russia are of concern to critics. They fear he may cede too much during their first official summit on July 16 in Helsinki, Finland.

The Republican president said he would raise the issue of election meddling with Putin as well as Russia's role in Syria and Ukraine.

After Trump and Putin met briefly in Vietnam in November 2017, Trump was criticized in the United States for saying he believed Putin when he denied Russian meddling.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged that Russian hackers had tried to help Trump win the White House, something Russia has flatly denied. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump's campaign worked with Moscow. Trump denies any collusion and has called the probe a "witch hunt."

Putin last month said patriotic Russian hackers may have staged cyber attacks against countries that had strained relations with Moscow and denied state intervention - a departure from the Kremlin's previous denials of any Russian interference.

"Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!" Trump tweeted last week.

'GLAD PRESIDENT WILL CONFRONT PUTIN'

"I'm concerned when the president tweets, you know, Russia denies they meddled in our election," Republican U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham told NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday. "When they say they didn't meddle, they're lying.

"So I'm glad the president is going to confront Putin. Show him the evidence you've got, Mr. President, because it's overwhelming."

Bolton also said he discussed Russia's annexation of Crimea with Putin and his aides during a 90-minute meeting.

"President Putin was pretty clear with me about it, and my response was we're going to have to agree to disagree on Ukraine," he said. "That's not the position of the United States."

Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States in response, and its military intervention in the war in Syria to support President Bashar al-Assad are major causes of strain in the two countries' relations.

Asked on Friday if the United States would recognize Crimea as part of Russia, Trump said: "We're going to have to see."

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‘Is this not democracy?’: No conditions will make Russia return Crimea to Ukraine rule – Putin

Moscow will never return Crimea to Ukraine, because the republic overwhelmingly opted to reunite with Russia in a free referendum, Vladimir Putin has told Austrian ORF broadcaster, in an exclusive interview.

“There are no such conditions and there can never be” for Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine, Putin, who is to visit Austria on Tuesday, said. Russia was forced to act in Crimea because of the “unconstitutional armed coup,” which took place in Ukraine in February 2014.

The President addressed the issue of Russian military presence on the peninsula at that time by saying that “our army was legally deployed in Crimea – under the agreement on our military base there.”

 
Car traffic on the Crimean Bridge's freeway section © Alexey Malgavko

And, following the regime change in Kiev, “the first thing we did was increase our contingent to guard our Armed Forces, our military facilities, because we immediately saw that they were being threatened,” he said.

The mostly Russian population of Crimea also “sensed danger, when trains started bringing aggressive nationalists there, when buses and personal vehicles were blocked, people naturally wanted to protect themselves,” Putin recalled, adding that “the first thing that occurred was to restore the rights that Ukraine itself had issued by granting Crimea autonomy.”

He pointed out that the decision to hold a referendum on secession from Ukraine “was made by the Crimean parliament, which was elected in strict accordance with the Constitution and the laws of Ukraine before any such events.”

“Crimea gained independence through the free will of the Crimeans, expressed in an open referendum, not as a result of an invasion by Russian forces,” Putin said. The Russian forces were only in Crimea to ensure a free and independent plebiscite, he added.

READ MORE: Russia investigates Ukrainian judges suspected of violating Crimeans’ right to self-determination

The March 2014 referendum showed 96.77 percent of voters supported joining Russia, with an 83.1 percent voter turnout. “Is this not democracy? What is it then? And what is democracy?” Putin wondered.

But with ORF journalist Armin Wolf continuing to call Russia’s reunion with Crimea an “annexation,” Putin referred him to the example of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 with broad Western backing. “Why do you not say Kosovo was annexed after the invasion of NATO troops? You do not say that. You are talking about the Kosovars’ right to self-determination," he said, adding that “the Kosovars did this by a parliamentary decision alone, while the Crimeans did it in a referendum.”

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Putin Expresses Condolences to Cuban Leader Over Boeing 737 Crash

Putin has expressed his condolences to the Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez over the recent Boeing 737 crash near José Marti International Airport in Cuba and wished a speedy recovery for those who survived the crash, Kremlin said.

MOSCOW (Sputnik) — Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of condolences to Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, over a deadly crash of a passenger jet in Havana airport, the Kremlin said in a statement Friday.

"The Russian head of state conveyed words of sympathy and support to the families and friends of those killed, as well as wishes of a speedy recovery to those who survived the crash," the telegram says.

Boeing 737 carrying 104 passengers and crew crashed shortly after a takeoff from the José Marti International Airport in Cuba. It was reported shortly after the crash that three people on the plane had survived, however, worker at Havana’s Calixto Garcia hospital told Reuters later that one of the crash survivors had died from burns and other trauma.

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Russia: Trump promised to make visit to Moscow if Putin accepts invite to White House

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that President Trump indicated he could visit Moscow if Russian leader Vladimir Putin comes to the United States.

Lavrov told state television that Trump mentioned the possible trip when he called Putin on March 20 to congratulate him on his re-election to another six years in office.

State-run news agency RIA Novosti, citing the foreign ministry, said Trump invited Putin to Washington and said he would be glad to see his Russian counterpart in the White House.

Lavrov, who met with Trump in Washington in May, said Russia was expecting Trump to formalize the invitation, RIA Novosti reported. 

“We proceed from the fact that the U.S. president in a telephone conversation ... made such an invitation, said he would be glad to see (Putin) in the White House, would then be glad to meet on a reciprocal visit,” Lavrov said in comments posted on the foreign ministry's website.

“He returned to this topic a couple of times, so we let our American colleagues know that we do not want to impose, but we also do not want to be impolite, and that considering that President Trump made this proposal, we proceed from the position that he will make it concrete.”

Both the White House and the Kremlin previously revealed that Trump had invited Putin to the White House during the same call, when the two leaders discussed wanting to meet soon.

A visit by Putin to Washington would anger Trump's critics, amid special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible links between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russians who sought to influence the election by hacking emails and spreading fake news.

Trump has repeatedly said his campaign did not collude with Russia to gain advantage in the election. Lavrov has dismissed the meddling allegations as a baseless "claptrap."

Trump met face-to-face with Putin for the first time at the Group of 20 summit of world leaders in Hamburg, Germany, in July. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

More: Trump won't say whether he would fire Mueller, but notes that he's 'still here'

More: Russia: 'Unscrupulous' U.S. behavior destabilizes world

More: Lavrov rejects as 'claptrap' charges of Russian election meddling

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Vladimir Putin Re-elected by Landslide 76.65 Pct

Moscow, Mar 19 (Prensa Latina) Russian leader Vladimir Putin overwhelmingly won reelection by landslide with 76.65 percent with 99 percent of the ballots counted according to the latest official reports at 05:21 local time.

The Russian Election Commission said Monday almost 55.5 million of voters supported his candidacy.

The above 76 percent vote collected is Putin's all time high electoral support, far higher than the 52.9 percent he got in 2000, his 71.31 percent in 2004 and 63.6 in 2012, the Russian Central Electoral Commission outlined.

Addressing a rally at his campaign headquarters, Putin thanked his supporters, shared views on key issues and lay out his plans for the future, on which he said: 'We need a leap forward.'

He said his international agenda will be to develop relations with nations on all continents, adding Russia is ready to overcome all difficulties with Europe, while underscoring that China is Moscow's strategic partner and he's planning to expand links with Beijing.

The President stressed 'it is important for Russians to understand that there are huge challenges before us, and we must overcome these challenges, we must complete the nation's tasks. And I count on us all to continue this work together.'

First-time Communist Party candidate Pavel Grudinin came in second with 11.83 percent, while veteran nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky (Liberal Democratic party), who first ran against Boris Yeltsin in 1991, finished third with 5.6 percent.

The rest of the other five candidates running for president did not reached 2 percent.

They were Civil Initiative party leader Ksenia Sobchak, Sergei Baburin (All-People's Union party), Maxim Suraykin (Communists of Russia party), Boris Titov (Presidential Commissioner for Entrepreneurs' Rights) and Grigory Yavlinsky (Yabloko party).

Results of the presidential election in Russia show the Russian people are happy with the domestic and foreign policies implemented by the current leadership and voted for the continuation of the political course, observer from Italy Claudio D'Amico told Sputnik News.

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Putin & Trump expected to establish dialogue vital for whole world at G20 meeting – Kremlin

The long-awaited meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Donald Trump, is expected to lay the groundwork for a working dialogue, which is vital for resolving the world’s conflicts, the Kremlin said.

“This is the first meeting, the first encounter of the two presidents, this is the main thing in this meeting,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday, commenting on the Kremlin’s expectations for the upcoming meeting between Putin and Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany on July 7.

 
© Reuters / Sputnik

“[We have] expectations of establishing a working dialogue, which is probably vital for all the world in terms of improving efficiency in resolving a critical mass of conflicts and problems, which is growing day by day,” Peskov went on.

The Russian leader is preparing for the meeting with Trump the same way he is preparing for similar events at the G20, Peskov added. Putin will also meet French President Emmanuel Macron, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, among other world leaders during the two-day summit.

The conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and ways of resolving them are possibly among the other issues on the agenda during the first meeting between the two leaders, according to Peskov.

“I think that [the two leaders will discuss] the Syrian [conflict] resolution, the Astana process, and the issues of possible Russian-American cooperation,” Peskov said, adding that the joint fight against terrorism will be discussed if the US is ready for it. The presidents may also discuss the Syrian settlement.

As for the Ukrainian issue, the meeting will provide “a great opportunity to repeat the Russian position on the fact that there is no alternative to the Minsk agreements, the necessity to implement the agreements and taking measures to stop the provocations, which unfortunately occur from the Ukrainian Armed Forces.”

Despite the full format of the bilateral meeting, Peskov said that it will be time-limited, as it will take place in the framework of the G20 summit. The Russian president will not have an opportunity to fully express his understanding of the Ukrainian conflict and its reasons.

On Tuesday, both Moscow and Washington confirmed that Putin and Trump will hold their first full-fledged meeting at the G20 summit on July 7. The Kremlin pointed out that it will not merely be a brief contact on the sidelines, but “a full-fledged ‘sit down’ meeting.” Previously, the leaders spoke only by phone.

The Trump-Putin meeting is grabbing attention in light of souring Russian-American relations, which are currently “at the zero mark,” according to Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov. Moscow and Washington have been at loggerheads, especially after Trump’s order to launch launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airbase near the city of Homs on April 7. The move was justified by Washington, accusing the Syrian government of carrying out a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, which killed dozens of people. Damascus has denied those allegations, while Moscow has repeatedly called for an international investigation into the incident to be conducted.

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