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5 things Trump should ask Putin — but probably won’t

by David Gilbert and Greg Walters
Nov 9 2017, 1:39pm

This time last year, Donald Trump was openly praising Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Now, when the two meet, it happens under a veil of secrecy.

There have been mixed messages about whether the two leaders will actually meet in Vietnam Friday — the Russian side says it’s a lock, the American side says it’s a maybe.

But one thing’s for sure: These two have a lot to talk about. Here’s what Trump should ask the man he once called his “stablemate.”

Seriously, did you hack our election?

The last time the two presidents met, during July’s G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed Trump pressed Putin on Russia’s alleged interference in America’s 2016 presidential election.

Putin calmly explained that Russia had nothing to do with it — and Trump just took him at his word and moved on, according to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s version of the event.

Since then, new revelations have emerged detailing the scale of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including posts on Facebook that reached up to 126 million Americans.

And the investigation into possible coordination between Trump’s campaign and Moscow has picked up steam. Indictments have dropped against former campaign chairman Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates and a lowly campaign operative named George Papadopolous (who’s already pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contact with Russian officials).

Last time, Putin supposedly asked Trump for proof of Russia’s involvement. This time, Trump may want to come better prepared.

Are you secretly propping up North Korea?

Trump has said he’s planning to seek Russia’s help in stopping North Korea from building up its nuclear weapons program.

But Russia’s position on North Korea has been, to say the least, a little complicated.

Russia and China supported tighter sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations in September, including new limits on energy imports, but only after helping to block the harsher restrictions the U.S. originally proposed.

In recent months, reports have emerged that Russia may be secretly supplying North Korea with energy — even up to a third of the Hermit Kingdom’s total oil supplies, if recent claims by a North Korean defector are to be believed.

Trump may want to push Putin about whether reported oil smuggling into North Korea is being quietly condoned by the Kremlin — or if, perhaps, the former head of Russia’s FSB intelligence service just hasn’t heard of it.

Remember when you promised to help get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons?

Prior his 12-day trip to Asia, Trump said that if he did meet Putin, they’d talk Syria.

On Wednesday, Russia blocked a draft U.N. resolution, prepared by the U.S., to extend the mandate of an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in the troubled Middle Eastern country.

The inquiry last month found that Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad used a deadly toxic gas to attack the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April, despite claiming to have eradicated his country’s stockpile in 2013.

Of course, back then, Putin helped convince the U.S. to avoid getting more deeply involved in Syria by offering to help get rid of Assad’s chemical weapons.

Since then, Assad has been accused of using chemical weapons on his own people numerous times.

Trump could take a moment to press Putin on that commitment.

Is Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky spying on us?

In September, the U.S. government placed a ban on the products made by Kaspersky Lab, amid claims the Moscow-headquartered cybersecurity company was using its products to carry out espionage on behalf of the Kremlin.

Founder of the company Eugene Kaspersky vigorously denied those claims, and laid out an alternate explanation of how sensitive NSA files could have ended up on the company’s Moscow servers.

Kremlin officials have dismissed the claims against Kaspersky. The Russian President may seek to persuade Trump that the company is not a threat to America’s national security.

What’s with all the Russian loans to Venezuela?

Venezuela is struggling through a political and economic meltdown. And Washington is ratcheting up the pressure in a bid to isolate the country’s leadership. But Russia keeps stepping in to prop it up.

The U.S. slapped another round of sanctions on Venezuela Thursday, including multiple government officials, in an attempt to punish and isolate the Latin American country over what the White House calls a march toward dictatorship.

But earlier this week, Russia extended an economic lifeline to Venezuela — agreeing to ease the struggling country’s debt burden by restructuring $3 billion in debt.

Reports have surfaced that Russian oil company Rosneft has been secretly negotiating to take control over vast swaths of Venezuela’s energy assets in exchange for cash and loans needed to keep Venezuela struggling economy afloat.

But Vladimir Rouvinksi, a political scientist at Colombia’s Icesi University, told VICE News earlier this month that Russia’s real aim is to build up influence in a country close to America’s backyard.

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