US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have agreed to work on improving relations between the two superpowers in their first meeting since a report detailed Moscow’s organized campaign to influence US elections. The June 28 meeting during a G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, got off to a bumpy start when Trump was asked about whether the issue of election meddling would be discussed, report agencies.
Trump replied that “of course I will,” prompting an awkward smile from Putin. The US president then sardonically told Putin “don’t meddle in the election” while pointing a finger at him. The meeting came as relations between the two nations have tumbled to a post-Cold War low even as the leaders profess good personal ties.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and the Kremlin’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have strained relations between Washington and Moscow for years. A US federal investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which was submitted in March, documented extensive evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, an accusation which Putin has denied.
Against such a backdrop of fractious bilateral and international issues, expectations of any landmark decisions emerging from the meeting were muted. A White House statement released via a press pool report from the 80-minute meeting appeared to show the low expectations were met. “Both leaders agreed that improved relations between the United States and Russia was in each countries’ mutual interest and the interest of the world,” the statement read. “The leaders also discussed the situations in Iran, Syria, Venezuela, and Ukraine,” it added.
The meeting was also the two leaders' first face-to-face discussion since a Helsinki summit in July during which Trump refused to allow any advisers to join him and whose details he declined to share with Congress. Trump canceled his last planned meeting with Putin at the G20 in Argentina in November 2018 after Russia seized two Ukrainian vessels and their crew in the Sea of Azov. The two, though, did speak briefly on the sidelines of that event. ARMS CONTROL
One of the biggest bilateral issues facing Washington and Moscow is arms control.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is set to expire in August after the US accused Russia of noncompliance and withdrew from the deal, leading Moscow to follow suit. The New START treaty, which puts caps on offensive nuclear armaments, is due to expire in 2021 unless the two countries agree on an extension. Trump's administration is considering creating a new treaty that includes China.
Putin reiterated to the FT that Russia hasn't seen any interest from the United States to extend the New START treaty. "If we do not begin talks now, it would be over because there would be no time even for formalities," he said. According to the White House statement from the June 28 meeting, “the Presidents agreed the two countries will continue discussion on a 21st century model of arms control, which President Trump stated as needing to include China.” The US and Russia are also at loggerheads over Iran and Venezuela, where the situation has deteriorated over the past several months. Both Tehran and Caracas are allies of the Kremlin.
Trump is seeking the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro as the South American nation’s economy spirals out of control. He has called on Russia to end support for Maduro’s regime. “There will be pure chaos. How could they [US] act like this?” Putin told the FT about regime change in Venezuela.