Trump, Putin Set to Meet in Helsinki 07/16 06:13
President Donald Trump blamed the United States, and not Russian election
meddling or the country's annexation of Crimea, for a low-point in U.S.-Russia
relations hours before a summit with Vladimir Putin that played out against a
backdrop of fraying Western alliances, a new peak in the Russia investigation
and fears that Moscow's aggression may go unchallenged.
HELSINKI (AP) -- President Donald Trump blamed the United States, and not
Russian election meddling or the country's annexation of Crimea, for a
low-point in U.S.-Russia relations hours before a summit with Vladimir Putin
that played out against a backdrop of fraying Western alliances, a new peak in
the Russia investigation and fears that Moscow's aggression may go unchallenged.
"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse," Trump tweeted from
Helsinki Monday morning, blaming "many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity
and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!"
Monday's meeting, which was being closely watched by rattled world capitals,
was condemned in advance by members of Congress from both parties after the
U.S. indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused
of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump's presidential
campaign. Undeterred, the American president was set to go face-to-face with
Putin, the authoritarian leader for whom he has expressed admiration.
Trump, who has been trying to lower expectations about what the meeting will
achieve, told reporters during a breakfast Monday morning with Finland's
president that he thought the summit would go "fine."
The meeting comes as questions swirl about whether Trump will sharply and
publicly rebuke his Russian counterpart for the election meddling that
prompting a special counsel probe that Trump has repeatedly labeled a witch
In his tweets, Trump continued to undermine the investigation, and blamed
his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to stop Russia's efforts to sway the
2016 election in Trump's favor. He claimed Obama "was informed by the FBI about
Russian Meddling, he said it couldn't happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING
The Obama administration did, in fact, take action, including confronting
Putin in person as well as expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats the
U.S. said were actually intelligence operatives and imposing new sanctions.
While Trump was eager for a made-for-TV moment that will dominate headlines
like his sit-down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, the
Kremlin's primary mission was simply to have the summit happen. Putin hopes the
meeting, mere hours after he presided over the World Cup finals, will help him
forge good personal ties with Trump and focus on areas where Moscow and
Washington may be able to find common ground, such as Syria.
The two leaders first meet one-on-one in the Finnish presidential palace's
opulent Gothic Hall, then continue their discussions with an expanded group of
aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor's throne room.
The leaders will then take questions at a press conference before going their
Putin will likely not be shooting for official recognition of Russia's 2014
annexation of Crimea or easing of the crippling U.S. sanctions, aware that the
U.S. Congress would never allow such action. But he would welcome a symbolic
end to Western protests over Crimea and Moscow's attempts to destabilize
elections and traditional Western alliances and norms.
Trump unleashed his own attacks on those very institutions before arriving
In an interview with CBS News that aired Sunday, Trump described the
European Union, a bloc of nations that includes many of America's closest
allies, as a "foe."
That attack on the alliance came on the heels of Trump's jarring appearance
at a NATO summit in Brussels, where he harshly criticized traditional allies
over "delinquent" defense spending only to later confirm his commitment to the
military alliance that has long been a bulwark against Russian aggression.
"NATO is now strong & rich!" Trump wrote in a celebratory tweet Monday
morning. During his breakfast, he said NATO had "never been more together" and
said the summit had been "a little bit tough at the beginning, but it turned
out to be love."
Ahead of his sit-down with with Putin, who has cracked down on the free
press, Trump has continued to unleash a series of attacks on the media,
including as Air Force One descended into Helsinki.
"Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the
great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by
Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn't good enough -
that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!" Trump tweeted. "Much
of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems know how
to do is resist and obstruct!"
"Russia has done nothing to deserve us meeting them in this way," said Nina
Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute who
specializes in Russia, Ukraine and disinformation. For Putin, she added, "not
only is this a P.R. coup no matter what happens, Trump could say nothing and it
would help to legitimize his regime."
Hovering over Helsinki is the specter of the 2016 election interference and
ongoing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible collusion
between Trump campaign officials and Russia.
Trump said in Britain last week --- another chaotic stop on his European
tour --- that he would raise the issue of election meddling with Putin even as
he played down its impact.
"I don't think you'll have any 'Gee, I did it. I did it. You got me,'" said
Trump, invoking a television detective. "There won't be a Perry Mason here, I
don't think. But you never know what happens, right? But I will absolutely
firmly ask the question."
Trump also said in the CBS interview that he had given no thought to asking
Putin to extradite the dozen Russian military intelligence officers indicted
this past week in on charges related to the hacking of Democratic targets.
But after being asked about that by his interviewer, Trump said "certainly
I'll be asking about it" although extradition is highly unlikely. The U.S.
doesn't have an extradition treaty with Moscow and can't force the Russians to
hand over citizens. Russia's constitution also prohibits turning over citizens
to foreign governments.
Putin is likely to strongly reaffirm his denial of any meddling and cast the
U.S. charges as unfounded.
The Russian Foreign Ministry rejected last week's indictment as part of a
"shameful comedy" staged by those in the U.S. who try to prevent the
normalization of Russia-U.S. ties, arguing that it doesn't contain evidence to
back the accusations.
On Syria, a possible deal could see Moscow helping mediate the withdrawal of
Iranian forces and their Hezbollah proxies from the areas alongside Syria's
border with Israel --- a diplomatic coup that would reflect Russia's carefully
cultivated ties with both Israel and Iran.
While both Putin and Trump spoke about the need to discuss arms control
issues, they are unlikely to make any quick deals. They may underline the
importance of continuing the discussions, setting the stage for discussions on