A long-awaited first summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin will take place in Helsinki on July 16, the Kremlin and the White House said on Thursday.
The talks come as Russia’s relations with the West languish at levels not seen since the Cold War and will be likely to provoke criticism for Trump at home, where investigators are probing possible collusion between his presidential campaign team and Moscow.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine as well as Moscow’s backing of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in the Syrian conflict will also loom large.
Next month’s dialogue in Finland will see the two leaders discuss “the current state and prospects for development of Russian-US relations,” said the Kremlin.
A statement from the White House said the men would also broach various national security issues. Trump earlier said he expected the discussions to be wide-ranging.
– ‘Good things’ –
“I think we’ll be talking about Syria. I think we’ll be talking about Ukraine. I think we’ll be talking about many other subjects. And we’ll see what happens. You never know about meetings what happens, right?” the US president said.
“I think a lot of good things can come with meetings with people,” he added.
The announcement came after Trump’s hawkish national security advisor John Bolton met Putin in Moscow on Wednesday, where he was given a warm welcome before the two discussed details of the future summit.
“Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can at least take the first step to reviving full-blown ties between our states,” Putin told Bolton at the Kremlin after the two smiled and shook hands for the cameras.
Bolton said there were areas for cooperation between the two countries, but added that the lifting of US sanctions imposed after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 would not be on the table at the summit.
Both sides have played down expectations of what the talks can hope to produce in concrete terms, saying the fact that Trump and Putin are meeting at all is an achievement in itself.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said he welcomed the planned dialogue.
“The agenda of the meeting of Presidents Trump and Putin will be decided during the next two weeks, but they will certainly discuss the overall international situation and hopefully also arms control and disarmament issues,” he said in a statement.
“Even small steps in reducing tensions would be in everybody’s interest.”
– Ignoring staff’s advice –
Since coming to power last year, Trump has sought to improve relations with Putin amid tensions between Moscow and the West.
Trump said this month Russia should be re-admitted to the G7 group of industrialised democracies from which it was suspended after annexing Crimea.
That comment came at a summit which ended in sharp disagreement between Trump and his G7 allies.
The last, brief meeting between Putin and Trump took place in November 2017 in Vietnam during an APEC summit.
Putin and Trump discussed holding a summit during a phone call in March, when the US leader reportedly ignored advice from his staff and congratulated the Russian president for his victory in elections that were criticised by observers.
Moscow said Trump had invited Putin for a summit at the White House but the focus has since shifted to a possible meeting on neutral ground.
The US president is due to attend the July 11 and 12 NATO summit in Brussels before heading to Britain to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II on July 13.