'Man-baby' meets 'evil spy': Helsinki demo greets Trump and Putin

Protesters gather on the Senate Square at the end of the so-called "Helsinki Calling" march to defend the human rights, freedom of speech and democracy on July 15, 2018.
Protesters gather on the Senate Square at the end of the so-called "Helsinki Calling" march to defend the human rights, freedom of speech and democracy on July 15, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

HELSINKI (AFP) - Protesters in the Finnish capital on Sunday (July 15) denounced the meeting of a "man-baby" and "evil spy" as US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin prepared to go head-to-head in a historic summit clouded by Russia's alleged manipulation of the 2016 US election.

Monday's summit in Helsinki will offer Mr Putin, a former KGB spymaster, and Mr Trump the chance to get the measure of each other on an array of fronts, including Syria, Ukraine and nuclear disarmament.

In a festive atmosphere and warm sunshine, more than 2,000 people denounced attacks on human rights, press freedom and dissent as they marched to Helsinki's central Senate Square on the eve of the summit taking place in the nearby presidential palace.

"Whiny demented man-baby meets evil master spy. What could go wrong?" read one banner made by a Finnish woman.

The crowd repeated a refrain heard at many anti-Trump protests including one that drew tens of thousands to London as the President visited Britain last week: "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA!"

But in Helsinki, which lies close to the Russian border, there was plenty of heat on Mr Putin too.

A Finnish man, who works as an elderly-care nurse, held a sign in both English and Russian saying, "Putin prison for lifetime".

Far from being locked up, Mr Putin will take the short flight to Finland on a diplomatic high after presiding over Sunday's World Cup final in Moscow.

Mr Trump teed up for the summit by relaxing at one of his golf courses in Scotland after a tumultuous trip to Britain, which itself came after he bashed heads at a Nato summit in Brussels.

But far from his prediction that the Putin meeting would be the "easiest" part of his swing through Europe, the summit comes freighted with new tensions, after 12 Russian military intelligence agents were indicted for hacking Democrats during the 2016 election.

The indictments formed part of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller that Mr Trump has denounced as a "witch hunt" designed to undermine the legitimacy of his surprise win over Mrs Hillary Clinton.

Democrats, however, said he should cancel the Helsinki summit, arguing the indictments revealed the lengths to which Mr Putin had gone to meddle in the election.

In an interview with US network CBS on Saturday, Mr Trump said he "might" press Mr Putin to extradite the indicted Russians.

Of the summit as a whole, he said: "I'm not going with high expectations," but insisted: "I think it's a good thing to meet."

"Nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out," he said, pointing to other summits he has held with the leaders of China and North Korea.

His meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un ended with a decision by Mr Trump to end US-South Korean military exercises, much to the surprise of Seoul and Tokyo.

The Kremlin said it considers Mr Trump a "negotiating partner".

"The state of bilateral relations is very bad," Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov said on Friday. "We have to start to set them right."

But US allies and many in Washington are worried about what Mr Trump might conceivably bargain away to Mr Putin.

The US President used a stormy G-7 summit in Canada to ponder whether it was time to readmit Russia to the club, and move past sanctions imposed over Moscow's seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine.

The outlines of what would be a hugely controversial deal have emerged in press reports that suggest Mr Putin is keen to exploit Mr Trump's desire to pull US troops out of Syria by offering to rein in Iranian influence there.

US recognition of the Crimea grab by Russia in 2014 and an end to the sanctions would be part of the mix.

Mr Putin has less reason to cheer Mr Trump's imposition of trade tariffs on countries including Russia, and from his decision to abandon a landmark nuclear pact with Iran.

Mr Trump also says he intends to pressure Mr Putin over the rapid growth and modernisation of Russia's nuclear arsenal.

But for Mr Putin, merely getting Mr Trump to sit across the table counts as "an informal recognition of Russia as a great power", political analyst Alexei Malashenko said.