Putin hopes Trump aide visit ‘first step’ to improving ties

MOSCOW, June 27, 2018 (AFP) : Russian President Vladimir Putin
expressed hope that Wednesday’s visit to Moscow by US leader Donald Trump’s
national security advisor will help improve bilateral ties amid tensions
between Moscow and the West.

Hardliner John Bolton is in Moscow to lay the groundwork for a summit
between the Kremlin chief and President Trump that may take place next month
in Europe.

“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 start of the Kremlin meeting after the two smiled and shook hand for the
cameras.

“We never sought confrontation,” Putin said in televised remarks, adding
he regretted that the Russia-US ties were not “on top form.”

Bolton said it was important to keep talking and complimented Putin on
his handling of the football World Cup, currently taking place in Russia.

“Even in earlier days when our countries had differences our leaders and
their advisors met and I think that was good for both countries, good for
stability in the world and President Trump feels very strongly on that
subject,” he said.

“So again we are most appreciative of your courtesy and graciousness here
and I look forward to learning how you handle the World Cup so successfully,
among other things.”

The United States will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada,
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier in the day the meeting would be
used to discuss “the sad state” of bilateral relations as well as top
international issues.

Trump said this month that Russia should be re-admitted to the G7 group
of industrialised democracies, from which it was suspended for its annexation
of Crimea in 2014.

– ‘At our peril’ –

A former US ambassador to the UN, Bolton is known for his hawkish stances
and has repeatedly called for tough sanctions against Russia.

“We negotiate with Russia at our peril,” he wrote in a column for the
Daily Telegraph in 2017.

Earlier Wednesday Bolton met behind closed doors with Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov and the first deputy head of Russia’s security council, Yury
Averyanov.

Trump is due to participate in the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels
before heading to Britain to meet Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen
Elizabeth II.

Putin and Trump discussed holding a summit when the US leader
congratulated the Russian president on his re-election in March, reportedly
ignoring advice from his advisors.

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.

Earlier this month, Putin said he was ready to meet Trump as soon as
Washington gave the green light, adding that Vienna was a possible venue.

But US-based news website Politico reported this week that the two
leaders could meet in the Finnish capital Helsinki.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Helsinki is “always ready to offer
its good services if asked.” He did not provide further details.

– ‘Triggers for new sanctions’ –

US-Russian relations have suffered from years of disagreement over the
Syrian conflict, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in eastern
Ukraine.

More recently bilateral ties have been strained by a probe into Russian
meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and suspected collusion with
the Trump campaign, as well as by the poisoning of a former Russian spy in
Britain.

The last, brief meeting between Putin and Trump took place in November
2017 in Vietnam during an APEC summit.

Analysts expect the Putin-Trump summit to be more style than substance.

Observers say Putin is unlikely to make any major concessions on the
Ukraine crisis or other sensitive issues, giving Washington little incentive
to review its sanctions.

“A Trump-Putin meeting would temporarily ease US-Russia tensions, but
new US sanctions are still likely later this year,” said the Eurasia Group
think tank.

“There remain multiple triggers for new sanctions this year, including
past cyber operations linked to Russia, continued Russian involvement in
Syria, or any evidence of Russian interference in the November US midterm
elections.”