The Cable

Might Trump and Putin Meet in May?

One Russian report seems to think so.

trump putin may

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are, at present, expected to meet on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany this July. Unless, of course, they meet before that.

Russian media outlet Kommersant reported that Trump and Putin may meet before the end of May, when Trump is in Europe for the NATO summit in Brussels and the G-7 summit in Taormina, Sicily. The Trump-Putin meeting would reportedly be held in some still unspecified European country. This was apparently confirmed by sources in both the Russian and U.S. administrations.

Kommersant presents the argument that the first meeting will be significant in shaping U.S.-Russian relations in the time of Trump. Kommersant also helpfully notes that U.S.-Russian relations so far have not improved since the Obama era. The continuing case of Michael Flynn, who resigned after lying to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (and the American public) about whether he discussed lifting sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, and who may have committed a crime by not disclosing payments he received from Russian state-backed network RT. (Russian media and lawmakers called Flynn’s resignation the result of a Russophobic witch hunt.)

Some Russian experts are skeptical that a face-to-face meeting will improve matters any more than a phone call could. Andrei Sushentsov, program director of the Valdai Club, tells Kommersant relations cannot be improved as long as the one-sidedness that characterizes all U.S. presidential administrations is in place.

Some were more optimistic. Andrei Kortunov, general director of the Russian Council of International Affairs, is quoted as saying that the nitty-gritty of issues like Syria and Ukraine will not be resolved, and that the meeting is instead to begin finding common ground. Kortunov also thought that having the meeting around the NATO summit, at which Russia will surely be a (if not the) topic of discussion, could show that Trump is willing to invest “political capital” in U.S.-Russian relations.

To be sure, there are issues other than Syria and Ukraine (or the state of rights in Russia, which at present do not protect elderly journalists from being beaten to death in prison or opposition activists from being harassed on the street) on which that political capital could be spent.

Still, one wonders if the meeting between Trump and Putin, whenever it is held, will go the way of relations with Russia under Trump more broadly: with more innuendo than improvement.

Photo credit: NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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