Donald Trump will hold a private one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin when the leaders meet on July 16 — an arrangement that’s just swell for the Kremlin.Reports that Trump wants no other American in the room when he meets Putin came on the same day that a Republican-led Senate panel concluded that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election for Trump’s benefit.According to CNN, Trump wants no aide or official from the U.S. delegation to be present for the initial stages of the Helsinki summit.
"It absolutely suits us,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters in a conference call Tuesday. “You know that President Putin feels comfortable in any formats that are comfortable for his counterparts.”Putin and Trump have met twice since the 2016 election, once at the G20 summit and once on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit (APEC) summit in Vietnam — but this will mark their first official summit.Trump will travel across the Atlantic next week nominally to attend a NATO summit and visit the U.K., but experts believe the main reason for the trip is to sit down with the man critics say is responsible for the Trump presidency.NATO allies were already worried about Trump’s warming relationship with Putin, given Moscow’s incursions in Ukraine and along Europe’s eastern border.
With no officials in the room to document what is agreed, those allies will be worried about what concessions Trump may grant the Russian leader.Yet this won’t be Trump and Putin’s first one-on-one conversation. Almost a year ago Trump talked to Putin at the G20 dinner for almost an hour with no aides present. As American political scientist Ian Bremner says, it “wasn’t a good idea then, [and it] isn’t a good idea now.”One of the issues Trump said he would raise with Putin was Russian election meddling — something the Kremlin has consistently denied.Last November, in Vietnam, Trump appeared to accept Putin’s denial.
READ: Trump just hit Russian oligarchs with the most aggressive sanctions yet“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters at the time. “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election.” When asked if he believed the Russian leader, Trump said: “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”Next week Trump will be able to cite the newly-published Senate Intelligence Committee report, that once again concludes Russia interfered in the election to help Trump win.“The Russian effort was extensive and sophisticated, and its goals were to undermine public faith in the democratic process, to hurt Secretary Clinton (Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton) and to help Donald Trump,” Sen. Mark Warner, vice chairman of the committee, said.Seven Republican senators this week traveled to St. Petersburg and Moscow for meetings with Russian lawmakers and officials — including former Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak — to lay down the groundwork for next week’s summit.
The issue of election meddling was brought up but accounts differed significantly on how those discussions went.“I asked our friends in Russia not to interfere in our elections this year,” Sen. John Neely Kennedy told the Washington Post, describing the discussions as “damn frank, very, very, very frank, no holds barred.”However Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov said the issue had only been raised in “general form” and resolved quickly, describing the meeting as “one of the easiest ones in my life.”She added: “One shouldn’t interfere in elections — well, we don’t interfere.”
Cover image: Donald Trump chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting, part of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 11, 2017. (MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty Images)