Kremlin officials say there is an agreement for Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump to hold a summit in a third country.
The announcement came Wednesday as U.S. national security adviser John Bolton was in Moscow for talks with Putin and other senior Russian officials. Kremlin foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov said details about the venue for a Trump-Putin summit would be announced Thursday.
The meeting is expected to take place after Trump attends the NATO summit July 11-12 and visits Britain on July 13. Vienna and Helsinki are among the venues being considered.
‘Sad state’ of bilateral relations
Earlier, Putin told Bolton his visit to Moscow increased the chances of a restoration of Russian-U.S. relations.
Putin said relations between the two countries were “not in the best shape.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters “the sad state” of bilateral relations between the two countries would be discussed, as well as a range of international issues.
Bolton had said he hoped his one-day visit would lay the groundwork for what would be the first summit between Putin and Trump.
“President Trump asked me to come and speak to Russian authorities about the possibility of a meeting between him and President Putin, and there will be an announcement on that tomorrow simultaneously, in Moscow and Washington, on the date and the time of that meeting,” Bolton said during a Moscow press conference.
Asked if current tensions between Washington and Moscow might impede progress toward “deliverables,” or concrete bilateral agreements, at the summit, Bolton struck an optimistic tone.
“I think the fact of the summit is itself a deliverable, and I don’t exclude that they will reach concrete agreements,” he said.
“But there are a lot of issues to talk about that have accumulated, and I think it was one of the reasons why President Trump believes so strongly that it was time to have this kind of meeting. And as you can see, President Putin agreed,” he added. “So, there will be other preparatory meetings. I don’t doubt that [U.S. Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo and [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov will get together, and I would expect there would be other preparatory meetings, as well.”
Former NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alexander Vershbow expressed concern that “the intentions [of the prospective summit] are not entirely clear,” and that he suspected there wasn’t much common ground between the countries to build on.
Faith in Bolton
“I think it’s a good thing that Bolton was sent to Moscow to meet with his counterparts and President Putin, because this kind of meeting does need to be fully prepared,” Vershbow told VOA’s Russian service. “But there’s still a lot of questions about whether there are any major issues that are within reach of any resolution, given how deep our differences are on issues like Ukraine, [and Russia’s] continued efforts to marginalize the United States in Syria.
“For someone like me, who is a bit skeptical of where President Putin is taking his country and where he’s taking European security, I’m actually relieved to have Bolton as the man on the front line,” Vershbow said of Trump’s top adviser, who is renowned in Washington for his hawkish views on Moscow. “I know [Bolton] does believe strongly in Western values, and he has been strong in condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine and against Georgia 10 years ago. But at the end of the day, he answers to President Trump and … may be under instructions to be maybe a bit more flexible than his own instincts would tell him.”
Evelyn Farkas, former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, told VOA that Trump’s willingness to meet with Putin contradicted American and European measures to penalize Russia’s gross violations of international laws.
“I think the challenge that Russia poses is one that it poses not just to the United States but to the international community, which is that Russia is pushing back against the international order, against international laws,” she said.
“With its 2008 invasion of Georgia, followed by the attempted annexation of Crimea — which changed borders by force for the first time in Europe since World War II — that woke everyone up,” she said.
Beyond military aggression, Farkas said evidence of Russian meddling in foreign elections, its alignment with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — despite his use of chemical weapons on his own civilians — and the March 2018 poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain all indicate a Kremlin that deliberately undermines international law.
“Russia is saying, ‘We don’t care. We’re going to make new rules, or there are going to be no rules. The rules don’t apply to us,'” she said.
The Kremlin has denied charges of election meddling and attempted assassinations on foreign soil.
“On the positive side, our Congress and the executive branch are continuing to pressure Russia to change its behavior to stop all of these negative actions. On the negative side, our president gives signals that run counter to the policy, in essence saying, ‘Why don’t we allow Russia back into the Group of Seven?’ That flies in the face of sanctions. The reason Russia was kicked out unanimously by all the members of the G-7 was because Russia had attempted to change borders by force for the first time since World War II. And one of the punishments besides sanctions was throwing them out of the G-7.
“So that’s one example of the president seeming to contradict the overriding policy,” she said. “There’s also, of course, the many things he has said about Vladimir Putin.”
Trump and Putin have met twice on the sidelines of international summits and have spoken several times by telephone.
This story originated in VOA’s Russian service. Yulia Savchenko reported from Aspen, Colorado.