Trump chides Russia, but doesn’t condemn election meddling
On the eve of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to confront “new forms of aggression” targeting the West and called for Moscow to stop fomenting unrest around the world. Yet he pointedly stopped short of condemning Russia for meddling in the U.S. election.
Buoyed by an electrified crowd of thousands in Poland chanting his name, Trump sought to show he wasn’t overlooking Russian actions that have elicited global consternation, especially from nearby nations in eastern and central Europe.
He warned that Western interests were being tested by “propaganda, financial crimes and cyber warfare,” forcing NATO to adapt.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes including Syria and Iran, and to join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defence of civilization itself,” Trump said in a speech in Warsaw’s Krasinski Square.
It was a critique that the president did not appear to extend to Russia’s actions last year during the presidential campaign. In a news conference before his speech, Trump questioned the veracity of American intelligence about foreign meddling in the U.S. election, arguing that Russia wasn’t the only country that may have interfered.
“Nobody really knows for sure,” Trump said.
As U.S. investigations into Russia’s meddling forge ahead, Trump is under intense scrutiny for how he handles his first face-to-face session with Putin. U.S. intelligence officials say the unpredictable Russia leader ordered interference into the 2016 election that brought Trump to the White House.
From Poland, Trump took a short flight to Hamburg, Germany, where he met with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The two shook hands and chatted casually but made no comments to reporters before their meeting. Trump also planned to have dinner later Thursday with the leaders of South Korea and Japan, two U.S. treaty allies deeply alarmed about North Korea’s latest missile launch.
Trump and Putin plan to sit down together on Friday in Hamburg, on the sidelines of the G-20 summit of industrialized and developing economies. Asked, in Poland, whether he planned to discuss election meddling with Putin, Trump demurred.
But back in Washington, pressure was mounting from Trump’s critics in Congress for him to forcefully confront Putin. California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence panel, urged Trump to “have the courage” to raise the election issue directly, while several Senate Democrats insisted it would be a “severe dereliction” of Trump’s duties if he doesn’t.
Loath to cast a shadow on his election victory, Trump has avoided firmly blaming Moscow for campaign hacking in the past, and on Thursday, he was similarly elusive. He argued variably that it could have been Russia, probably was Russia and indeed was Russia, while insisting it could have been other countries, too, and adding: “I won’t be specific.”
U.S. President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel pose for a photograph prior to a bilateral meeting on the eve of the G-20 summit in Hamburg, northern Germany, Thursday.