Putin, Trump meet to­day

“No spe­cific agenda” or time set, but much an­tic­i­pa­tion over East-West en­counter

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Vladimir Isachenkov

For Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin, a meet­ing with U.S. coun­ter­part Don­ald Trump on the side­line of the Group of 20 sum­mit in Ger­many of­fers a long­sought op­por­tu­nity to ne­go­ti­ate a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Wash­ing­ton. But con­tro­versy over the Trump cam­paign’s ties with Rus­sia will loom over the talks, mak­ing any agree­ments un­likely.

Rarely in re­cent his­tory has a meet­ing of two heads of state gen­er­ated so much ex­cite­ment, anx­i­ety and hope.

The Krem­lin views Fri­day’s en­counter as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment that could ease Rus­sia-West ten­sions. Some in the U.S., mean­while, worry Trump could make un­jus­ti­fied con­ces­sions to Rus­sia.

Amid in­ves­ti­ga­tions into pos­si­ble col­lu­sion with Moscow by

Trump’s cam­paign, any deal with Putin would ex­pose Trump to more crit­i­cism. And if the two fail to get along, that would fur­ther ex­ac­er­bate ten­sions be­tween Moscow and Wash­ing­ton and put them on a col­li­sion course in re­gions around the world.

“If Putin comes to the con­clu­sion that even if Rus­sia and the U.S. reach agree­ment, Trump would be un­able to im­ple­ment it for do­mes­tic pol­icy rea­sons, he would lose in­ter­est in seek­ing an agree­ment,” said Dmitri Trenin, the di- rec­tor of the Carnegie Moscow Cen­ter.

Putin, a KGB vet­eran who once de­scribed him­self as an “ex­pert in per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” al­ways fo­cuses closely on try­ing to es­tab­lish warm ties with his coun­ter­parts. Krem­lin watch­ers say Putin metic­u­lously pre­pares for meet­ings with for­eign lead­ers, study­ing their track records and per­sonal habits.

“He be­lieves that per­son­al­i­ties — not states, armies or com­pa­nies — de­ter­mine the course of global events,” Trenin said.

Fy­o­dor Lukyanov, the head of the Council for For­eign and De­fense Poli­cies, said even if Putin and Trump de­velop a good rap­port, Trump’s abil­ity to de­liver on his prom­ises will be a key fac­tor for the Rus­sian leader.

“If Putin has a pos­i­tive view, as a min­i­mum he will give (Trump) more time to sort things out,” he said. “But he could pos­si­bly con­clude that he (Trump) may not suc­ceed in sort­ing things out and, more­over, doesn’t re­ally want an hon­est deal. If Putin de­cides it’s not go­ing to work, he will drop all con­straints.”

The tense en­vi­ron­ment for the Trump-Putin meet­ing con­trasts with the Krem­lin’s early ex­pec­ta­tions.

The Krem­lin was very pleased with Trump’s pres­i­den­tial vic­tory, be­cause he promised to im­prove ties with Rus­sia and praised Putin dur­ing the cam­paign. It had hoped for a quick meet­ing after Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in Jan­uary, but U.S. con­gres­sional and FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tions into links be­tween Trump cam­paign aides and Rus­sia blocked an early en­counter.

In the past few months, Moscow’s hopes that Trump could act to lift the sanc­tions im­posed on Rus­sia over the Ukrainian cri­sis have with­ered. Putin and his lieu­tenants have also be­come in­creas­ingly im­pa­tient about U.S.-Rus­sia ties re­main­ing at a freez­ing point.

“We re­al­ize that the sit­u­a­tion is dif­fi­cult and re­la­tions with Rus­sia have be­come hostage to the U.S. po­lit­i­cal in­fight­ing, but so what?” Putin for­eign af­fairs ad­viser Yuri Ushakov said this week. “We have dif­fi­cul­ties of our own.”

Rus­sia and the U.S. have strug­gled to even set a spe­cific time for Fri­day’s meet­ing, and the White House says there’s “no spe­cific agenda” for it. When the two pres­i­dents fi­nally sit down for a talk, sharp dif­fer­ences re­main on a range of is­sues, from Syria and Ukrainian to nu­clear arms con­trol.

While Trump has said the U.S. and Rus­sia could pool ef­forts to fight the Is­lamic State in Syria, Moscow’s firm sup­port for Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad makes agree­ment un­likely.

Moscow re­sponded an­grily when Trump or­dered a mis­sile strike on a Syr­ian base in April after a chem­i­cal at­tack blamed on As­sad’s forces, and was vexed by the U.S. down­ing of a Syr­ian war­plane in June. After last month’s in­ci­dent, the Rus­sian mil­i­tary sus­pended a hot­line with the U.S. to pre­vent midair in­ci­dents and warned that it would track U.S.-led coali­tion air­craft as po­ten­tial tar­gets over Syria.

And when the White House warned last week that As­sad was pre­par­ing for an­other chem­i­cal at­tack and would “pay a heavy price” if he launches it, Rus­sia re­sponded by of­fer­ing the Syr­ian ruler a tour of its air base.

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