Trump doesn't care what people think about his relationship with Putin

CNN/ Newswire | 7/3/2018, 7:51 a.m.
President Donald Trump clearly doesn't care what anyone thinks about his baffling, opaque and deferential relationship with Russian President Vladimir ...
Donald Trump

Some officials who have worked to stage past presidential summits fault the President's staff for not shielding him from an in-person encounter with Putin, arguing that he is badly mismatched with the wily Russian leader, who was trained by the KGB.

"It is no secret that the President doesn't do well one-on-one with Vladimir Putin," CNN national security analyst Samantha Vinograd said Monday, recalling how Trump ignored advice not to congratulate the Russian leader on his re-election this year.

"If he is sitting across the table from Vladimir Putin, who is a highly skilled manipulator and negotiator, the chances are things could go off the rails," said Vinograd, who was a senior National Security Council staffer in the Obama administration.

Moscow signaled on Tuesday that it would welcome a chance to open the summit with a one-on-one meeting between the leaders, pending agreement with the White House.

"It absolutely suits us. You know that President Putin feels comfortable in any formats that are comfortable for his counterparts," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

Will Trump try to impress Putin?

Diplomats working for US allies, stunned by their acrimonious split with Trump at the G7 and his decision to invoke a national security rationale to slap tariffs on European steel and aluminum, are viewing the Helsinki summit with concern.

There are fears that the President will be so keen to impress Putin that he will be even more confrontational than expected at the NATO summit in Brussels a few days before he goes to Helsinki.

Trump will also visit Britain on his Europe trip, where suspicion of his ties with Putin runs deep, especially after the poisoning with a nerve agent of a former Russia spy and his daughter on UK soil, an operation blamed on the Kremlin's intelligence agencies.

Britain's former finance minister George Osborne told CNN's Fareed Zakaria on Sunday that the Putin-Trump summit -- which the US President is highly enthusiastic about -- would compromise trust in the US administration.

"It makes the US a less reliable partner for Western countries like my own, and of course the atmosphere drives the media agenda, all of which points to a disintegration of Western unity," Osborne said.

The White House disputes the idea that there is anything sinister about the relationship between Trump and Russia, maintaining the line that no president has been tougher on Moscow than Trump. It also says Trump believes there is a chance to ease the acrimony in relations with Moscow in a way that could further global peace.

The President did sign off on the expulsions of 60 Russian diplomats and fresh sanctions in solidarity with US allies after the poisoning of the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal. The White House points out that Trump also endorsed the sale of lethal weapons to the government of Ukraine, a step the Obama administration did not take.

It was not the first time that the authentically hard line the administration has sometimes pursued toward Russia seemed at odds with the President's personal preferences.