Donald Trump to meet Vladimir Putin at G-20, seek ‘more constructive’ ties

A T-shirt featuring Trump and Putin on sale in at a souvenir shop in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
A T-shirt featuring Trump and Putin on sale in at a souvenir shop in Saint Petersburg, Russia.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Donald Trump will seek “a more constructive relationship with Russia” when he meets for the first time with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of next week’s Group of 20 (G-20) summit in Hamburg, Germany, the White House said on Thursday (June 29).

Trump’s National Security Adviser HR McMaster said Putin would be among the world leaders meeting the US President during the summit, taking place on July 7 and 8.

One goal of the President’s trip, McMaster said, will be “to develop a common approach to Russia.”

“As the President has made clear, he would like the United States and the leaders of the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia,” said Trump’s top security adviser.

“But he also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilising behaviour.”

McMaster declined to offer further specifics about the meeting, including whether the subject of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election – confirmed by every US intelligence agency but denied by Russia – might come up.

“It’s whatever the President wants to talk about,” McMaster said.

The Trump administration’s vexed relationship with Russia, including contacts between some of the President’s senior advisers and Moscow, has faced intense scrutiny amid a cascade of media revelations and a series of official investigations, including by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Trump has long played down reports of Russian meddling, but he seized on recent reports about former president Barack Obama’s cautious reaction to election interference last year to attack Obama for a timorous response.

The two superpowers also face an array of contentious foreign-policy issues, reaching from Syria to Ukraine to North Korea.

Trump has struck a tough tone on Russia’s ally Syria, ordering a missile attack on a military base there in April after it reportedly was used to launch a chemical attack; and warning this week that the government of Bashar al-Assad would “pay a heavy price” if it carried out a new chemical attack.

Washington and Moscow engaged in a further verbal escalation after US fighter jets shot down a Syrian government jet.

Trump’s early warmth toward Putin – and his blunt criticism of America’s Nato allies for not spending enough on defense – have rattled many in Europe, and particularly in places like Ukraine and the tiny Baltic countries.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met with Trump at the White House on Tuesday in what he himself said was an attempt to “arm” the US President with information ahead of his meeting with Putin.

Russian troops seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and Russia has supported separatist militias in a bloody fight along Ukraine’s eastern border.

Trump and Putin agreed during a phone call in May to work together to defuse tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and missile programmes.

It was during that call that the leaders agreed to seek a face-to-face meeting in Hamburg.