President Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in mid-July to discuss “relations between the United States and Russia and a range of national security issues,” confirmed White House Press Sec. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday.
National Security Adviser John Bolton, who met with Putin in Moscow on Wednesday to arrange the meeting, said he expects the leaders to discuss Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election and suggested Trump might talk about Russia rejoining the Group of Seven. Trump confirmed Wednesday that any future talks with Putin would include disagreements over Syria and Ukraine.
The summit, which is scheduled to take place July 16th in Helsinki, Finland, will be the third time the two leaders have met face to face. But it will be the first time they have met for no other reason than to talk with each other.
The meeting will be closely watched by US allies in Europe who want to isolate Putin and by critics in America who are concerned by Trump’s friendly attitude towards the Russian leader.
Trump has been consistently pro-Moscow and pro-Putin from the beginning, even after the US sanctioned Russia over its election meddling and use of a nerve agent on British soil.
Shortly before the White House announced the summit, Trump on Twitter spoke about Russia denying meddling in the election and suggested Clinton’s campaign may have colluded with Moscow.
“Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with meddling in our election!” he tweeted. “Where is the DNC server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being locked at? So many questions, so much corruption!”
Trump’s meeting with Putin will take place just four days after the conclusion of a NATO summit, during which members will discuss the threat from Russia. The summit is unlikely to sit well among critics who question Trump’s commitment to NATO and who have been worried about trade tensions with longtime allies like Germany and Canada.
“I’m not as concerned about the meeting as some other people are,” says European security expert Rachel Rizzo. “Trump already has such animosity toward Europe that we can expect the NATO summit to be highly contentious no matter what. Meeting or not meeting with Putin isn’t going to drastically swing the president’s views in either direction. They’ve been pretty consistent since the beginning of his presidency.”
The summit also comes “amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to win the 2016 election,” notes VOX. “It’s jarring for the president to want to meet with the Russian leader despite knowing it might be negatively perceived by critics who believe Moscow may have undue influence over Trump.”