US President Donald Trump will be meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin in July this year, Kremlin and US officials have confirmed. This will be the first formal bilateral summit between the two heads of state.
Ties between the Russian Empire and the United States were established on October 28th, 1803, when Czar Alexander I recognised the official American Consul in St Petersburg. However, trade between the two regions dates back to the mid-1700s. Diplomatic relations were interrupted after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and the fall of the Tsars. Ties were normalised when US President Franklin Roosevelt recognised the USSR in the 1930s. The Soviet Union and US were briefly allies during World War II but by the end of the war, brewing mistrust and opposing worldviews led to hostility.
The Cold War, which lasted from 1947 to 1991, found much of the world divided into the Western Bloc (United States and its allies) and the Eastern Bloc (Soviet Union and its allies), as both blocs participated in a nuclear arms race. The end of Cold War and the dissolution of Soviet Union in 1991 seemingly brought an end to a period of uncertainty and turmoil.
Ties between Russia and the West deteriorated significantly in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and was punished with Western sanctions. Washington has imposed sanctions on Russian entities for their involvement in Ukraine, Syria, and interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections. US intelligence agencies believe that Kremlin interfered in the US elections to destabilize the presidential bid of former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The Russian government allegedly tried to disrupt Clinton’s campaign through cyberattacks and email leaks that could favour Donald Trump.
In March 2017, then-FBI director James Comey announced that the FBI was investigating possible links between the Russian government and Trump campaign aides. The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is currently looking into whether or not members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. Trump is also being investigated for obstruction of justice by the special counsel. Trump has denied all allegations and called the investigation a “witch hunt.”
Ties between US and Russia have been tense in 2018. Washington backed London when the latter accused Russia of poisoning a British spy. The United States also led air strikes against Kremlin ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria, where Washington and Moscow often back opposing factions. The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on a number of Russian entities this year including state agencies and oligarchs from President Putin’s inner circle.
US and Russian officials have announced that a summit will take place between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin. The meeting will likely take place in a “mutually convenient third country” after a July 11-12 NATO summit. The US President has said that Helsinki is a possible location for the summit. Other officials have said that Vienna is being considered. The US President said that Syria and Ukraine would be among the topics discussed.
The announcements came after a meeting between Putin and US National Security Adviser John Bolton. At the meeting, President Putin said that ties between Washington and Moscow are not “in the best shape” right now due to “a bitter internal political struggle in the US.” He told Bolton, "Your visit to Moscow provides us with hope that we will be able to take at least the initial steps towards restoring full-fledged relations between our countries." Putin said the leaders could discuss "what both sides could do to mend full-fledged relations based on equality and respect for each other’s interests," TASS news agency reported.
Bolton said that "direct contact between Trump and Putin is in the US national interest." “Both President Trump and President Putin feel that it's important for these two leaders of these two critically important countries to get together and discuss their mutual problems and areas of co-operation. It's something that I think both feel will contribute to improvements in the US-Russia bilateral relationship and in stability around the world," he said.
Russian Presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that the two leaders may sign a joint declaration. The four main themes of the summit include “strategic nuclear stability, the fight against international terrorism, regional issues like the Ukraine and Syria conflicts, and U.S.-Russia ties,” Reuters news agency reported. John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo both said that Moscow’s election meddling may be addressed at the summit.
Analysts have noted that Trump’s unconventional behaviour and criticism of organisations such as NATO has raised concerns amongst European leaders. During the recent G7 summit in Quebec, Trump proposed that Russia should be let into the group. Russia was expelled from the then-G8 in 2014 due to its annexation of Crimea. At the same time, he called key ally Canada’s Prime Minister “dishonest” and “weak”. A summit with Putin could worry countries such as Britain, which has taken a strong anti-Kremlin stance. Former Vice President Joe Biden has said that the current relationship between US and its allies is "the most serious transatlantic crisis in 70 years."
Others believe that despite Trump’s personal relationship with the Russian leader, hope for a breakthrough in US-Russia relationship is dim. There is still a lack of trust between the two nations. Senior US intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that Russia’s intentions remain malicious. Washington has continued to blame Moscow for “malign activity around the globe” and attempts to “subvert western democracies”. Last year, current national security advisor and known hawk Bolton himself warned, “We negotiate with Russia at our peril”.
Observers have also questioned whether the summit will be reduced to a publicity stunt.
Our assessment is that President Trump has indicated that he values strong personal relationships with other leaders, including President Putin. Given increasing tensions in both Ukraine and Syria, talks between the two leaders could be beneficial to the US-Russia relationship. We feel that issues such as election meddling, cyber-attacks, and military action in the Middle East are some critical subjects that could be addressed. However, Trump must avoid sending the wrong message to NATO partners. He could do this by reiterating US commitment to its current allies during the NATO summit in July.