US President Donald Trump will meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin for the first time Friday in Hamburg Germany, venue of the G20 summit. And it appears the meeting is on Putin’s terms.
According to reports, the scope of the meeting is raising concerns among experts as Trump will only be joined by Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson and a translator to face the man whose country was believed to have influenced Trump’s election last November.
Former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul expressed concern that Trump’s National Security advisor H.R. McMaster and his team — seen as moderating influences in the White House — were being sidelined.
“Putin likes small meetings. This means WH is letting Kremlin dictate the terms of this meeting. HR, at a minimum, should also be there,” he wrote on Twitter.
When Trump and Putin sit down for their afternoon meeting, they will not be short of crucial issues to discuss, including the wars in Syria and Ukraine, North Korea’s nuclear programme and efforts to combat terrorism.
On the eve of the encounter, Trump set the tone Thursday with a strong attack against Moscow for its “destabilising” actions.
In a key speech in Warsaw marking his first stop on his European tour, Trump fired a rare salvo of criticism at Russia.
“We urge Russia to cease its destabilising activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes — including Syria and Iran — and to instead join the community of responsible nations in our fight against common enemies and in defence of civilisation itself,” he told a cheering crowd of 10,000.
He admitted that Moscow “may have” tried to influence the 2016 election that brought him to power, but also suggested others too may have been involved and blames his predecessor Barack Obama for failing to act.
The property tycoon and the ex-KGB agent’s first meeting promises to be dissected frame by frame, with their handshake and body language including each facial twitch to be scrutinised for any sign of rapprochement or estrangement.
“While Trump pro-wrestling approach is showy, bombastic and impulsive, Putin thrives on judo’s discipline and mental toughness, where a core technique is to keep an opponent off-balance and exploit his weakness,” noted Derek Chollet from think-tank German Marshall Fund.
“How these contrasting styles of machismo interact… will likely be the defining feature of their relationship moving forward.”
The blockbuster bilateral meeting comes on the sidelines of what is expected to be the most fraught G20 summit in years in the German city of Hamburg.
Trump’s “America First” and climate sceptic stance are set to test the relationship with longstanding allies, while North Korea adds more volatility to global security.
Scenes outside the heavily guarded conference hall were also stormy, as anti-globalisation protesters fought running battles overnight with police who fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse extreme-left Black Bloc militants late Thursday.
Trump had alarmed Western partners wary of a resurgent Moscow with his refrain on the campaign trail pledging to have a “great relationship with Putin and Russia”.
But amid accusations that Moscow had a hand in propelling him to the White House, Trump finds himself in a tight spot over his complex relationship with the Russian leader.