Putin-Trump summit on agenda as US national security adviser John Bolton holds Moscow talks

US National Security Adviser John Bolton in Quebec, on June 8, 2018. Mr Bolton is due to give a news conference where he might name the date and location of a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton in Quebec, on June 8, 2018. Mr Bolton is due to give a news conference where he might name the date and location of a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - US National Security Adviser John Bolton held talks in Moscow on Wednesday (June 27) with Russian officials ahead of a meeting with Mr Vladimir Putin, part of an effort to lay the ground for a summit between the Russian President and President Donald Trump.

Mr Bolton, a lifelong hawk who warned last year before his own appointment that Washington negotiated with Mr Putin's Russia at its peril, is due to give a news conference at 1630 GMT, where he might name the date and location of a summit.

The TASS news agency reported that Mr Bolton had discussed potential cooperation between the two countries' security councils with Mr Yuri Averyanov, the first deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council.

Mr Bolton, who last year accused Mr Putin in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper of "lying with the benefit of the best KGB training", then began talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ahead of his planned sit-down with Mr Putin.

Mr Trump congratulated Mr Putin by phone in March after the Russian leader's landslide re-election victory and said the two would meet soon. However, the Russians have since complained about the difficulty of setting up a meeting.

Relations between Washington and Moscow are languishing at a post-Cold War low.

They are at odds over Syria, Ukraine, allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and accusations Moscow was behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain in March.

Expectations for the outcome of any Putin-Trump summit are therefore low, even though Mr Trump said before he was elected that he wanted to improve battered US-Russia ties.

A special prosecutor in the United States has indicted Russian firms and individuals for meddling in the presidential election to benefit Mr Trump, and is investigating whether anyone in Mr Trump's campaign helped the Russian effort.

Mr Trump denies wrongdoing and calls the investigation a "witch hunt".

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that Mr Putin and Mr Bolton would discuss what it described as "the sad state" of US-Russia relations.

DETAILS UNCLEAR

The summit, if it happens, is expected to take place around the second half of July after Mr Trump attends a Nato summit in Brussels and visits Britain.

A senior US official said on Tuesday the Finnish capital of Helsinki was being considered as a location.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the weekend he expected Mr Bolton's Moscow visit to lead to a summit "in the not too distant future".

Mr Pompeo said Washington was "trying to find places where we had overlapping interests, but protecting American interest where we do not".

Such a summit would be likely to cause irritation in parts of the West, where countries such as Britain want to isolate Mr Putin.

It would also go down badly among Mr Trump's foreign and domestic critics, who question his commitment to Nato and fret over his desire to rebuild ties with Russia even as Washington continues to tighten sanctions on Moscow.

The United States initially sanctioned Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea and its backing for a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine.

Subsequent sanctions have punished Moscow for what Washington has called its malign behaviour and meddling in US politics, something Russia denies.

Some Trump critics say Russia has not significantly altered its behaviour since 2014 and should therefore not be given the prestige that they believe a summit would confer.