U.S. President Donald Trump failed to mention Russia’s attack on the 2016 presidential election during his opening exchange with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki Monday, prefering to give the autocrat a wink and a line of flattery about hosting the World Cup.
The leaders finally shook hands shortly after 2 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) — the handshake lasting just three seconds, accompanied by stern expressions from across the table.
Speaking to the press before the pair held a one-on-one meeting, Trump said: “I’d like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup. One of the best ever from what everybody tells me and also for your team, itself, doing so well.”
Trump then listed what the agenda would be for the next 90 minutes, notably omitting any mention of election meddling — despite the U.S. president telling reporters last week that he would bring up the topic.
“We [will] have discussions on everything from trade to military, to missiles, to nuclear, to China, we’ll be talking a little bit about China — our mutual friend President Xi,” Trump said.
Earlier, Trump had lashed out at his own country for deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations, which he said had “never been worse.” He told Putin that he was planning on fixing that.
“I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship,” Trump said. “I’ve been saying, and I’m sure you’ve heard, over the years … that getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
As reporters were ushered out of the room, Putin was seen smirking as one of the journalists asked Trump if he would bring up Russian meddling.
The handshake followed an hour of theater as the leaders — first Putin, then Trump — took turns delaying the meeting.
Keeping world leaders waiting has become something of a Trump diplomatic tactic, but it was the White House delegation that was left to stew, with Putin arriving 45 minutes late to the Presidential Palace.
In turn, Trump, who was ensconced in the Hilton Helsinki Kalastajatorppa, delayed his departure to arrive 20 minutes after Putin.
This macho posturing was also on show in the presidential vehicles. Putin rolled into the Finnish capital using a newly-designed Russian limousine called a Kortezh, while Trump arrived in his armor-plated car, known as the “Beast.”
Putin has a long history of employing tactics to unsettle fellow leaders before meetings, once making Angela Merkel wait more than four hours for a meeting.
He also once brought to pet Labrador to a sit-down with the reportedly cynophobic German chancellor.
Cover image: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin shake hands at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland (Reuters)