U.S. President Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin for a long-awaited summit on Monday saying he wanted good relations with Russia, after blaming Washington’s own past “foolishness and stupidity” for the countries’ hostile ties.
Trump opened the meeting with warm words for Putin, seated next to the Russian leader in an ornate presidential palace in neutral Finland, and said it was a longstanding goal of his to improve the relationship between the two countries.
“I think we will have an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I’ve been saying it, and I’m sure you’ve heard over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is good thing, not a bad thing,” he said.
But to Trump’s critics, the friendly words had already been overshadowed by an extraordinary denunciation of his own country’s prior policies, which Trump tweeted out hours before the summit.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he tweeted before the summit began.
The Russian foreign ministry “liked” his tweet, and tweeted back: “We agree”.
Trump’s opponents at home were furious, with one Democratic congressman tweeting that Trump had turned the White House into “a propaganda arm for the Kremlin”.
Putin and Trump met alone apart from interpreters before a working lunch with aides. Trump said they would talk about a range of subjects, listing trade, the military, nuclear weapons and China.
But, at least in his public remarks at the outset, he mentioned none of the issues that have lately brought U.S.-Russian relations to the lowest point since the Cold War: Moscow’s annexation of territory from Ukraine, its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, as well as Western accusations that it poisoned a spy in England and meddled in elections.
“Our relationship with Russia is strained because of the very malign actions he’s refusing to take Russia to task for,” tweeted Democratic U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Though relations were worse during the Cold War, at least then the US Presidency wasn’t a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.”
The Kremlin has played down expectations for the summit. It said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a “first step” to resolving a crisis in ties.
“Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.”
While Trump has been abroad since last week, the special prosecutor investigating allegations that Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election indicted 12 Russians on Friday for stealing Democratic Party documents.Reuters