JUN 21, 2018: President Trump seems to be gearing up for a major summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin amid fraying ties with America’s traditional allies and has apparently worried European leaders.
Two dates are said to be under consideration: either before the Nato summit beginning on 11 July in Brussels, or after the president’s UK visit two days later. One of the more likely locations is Vienna.
On Thursday, the Kremlin said it was “aware” of a forthcoming Moscow visit by the White House’s national security adviser, John Bolton. According to the Interfax news agency, that visit could come as early as next week, with Mr Trump following soon thereafter.
The Times quoted a “senior Western diplomatic source” as saying an early Trump-Putin meeting, before the Nato summit, would “cause dismay and alarm” in Europe. A Whitehall source talked of “fear” for the future of Nato.
The choice of Mr Trump’s national security adviser for the Moscow visit has raised eyebrows. Mr Bolton is known for hawkish views on Russia and has criticized the White House for failing to extract a price from Putin for alleged interference in US elections. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would have been a more obvious choice.
But the choice was likely to be practical, said the former Kremlin adviser and security expert Vladimir Frolov. It was not a “Nixon to China” moment, he said, referring to the right-wing US president’s unexpected 1972 visit to Communist China (with Pakistan’s help). It opened doors for the latter to the international community and China’s huge market for the former.
“Pompeo is busy with North Korea,” he said. “Besides, Bolton is not [Nixon’s secretary of state] Kissinger — he is coming to execute Trump’s irresistible urge to meet with Putin.”
According to Bloomberg citing unnamed officials, Trump wants Russia to be restored to international community. Trump had two meetings with Putin last summer at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.
While official ties have diminished, the relations between the leaders have remained warm. The Russian leadership has pointedly refrained from criticism of the US president, blaming instead the “wrecking activities” of Congress. President Trump has on his part refrained from serious criticism of Russia.
In recent weeks, the US president even argued for Russia’s reinstatement into the G7 group of leading economic nations. Russia was expelled from the then-G8 in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea. Mr Trump’s comments went pointedly against the official position of G7 partners.
Other leaders in the group of industrialized nations rebuked Trump, who made the off-the-cuff remark as he left the White House for the G-7 summit.
“You know, whether you like it or not, and it may not be politically correct, but we have a world to run,” Trump said. “And in the G-7, which used to be the G-8, they threw Russia out. They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”
Trump appears to be alone among his party and even within his administration in seeking to repair U.S. relations with the Kremlin.
According to Bloomberg report, Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, castigated Trump for his remarks on Putin and for his animosity toward U.S. allies and trading partners.
“The president has inexplicably shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies,” McCain said in a statement.
It is not clear how much his move represented US policy, or was an improvized snub to European leaders ahead of trade negotiations. That will become clear as soon as Mr Bolton opens his briefcase in Moscow, said Mr Frolov.
“Bolton’s aim, most likely, will be to agree on a flowery statement with the sole practical agreement to launch substantive talks and unfreeze channels of communications,” he said.
“But even that will be interpreted as a big win for Putin.”