Putin accuses ‘powerful’ US forces of trying to undo summit success

Russian leader says his meeting with Donald Trump in Helsinki led to ‘useful agreements’

Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with Russian ambassadors to foreign countries in Moscow on Thursday. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin via AP

Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting with Russian ambassadors to foreign countries in Moscow on Thursday. Photograph: Sergei Karpukhin via AP

 

Russian president Vladimir Putin accused the American political establishment of threatening the US economy, its national security and its allies with criticism of Donald Trump following the two leaders’ summit.

In his first public assessment of the encounter in Helsinki, the Russian president told an annual meeting with Russia’s diplomatic corps on Thursday that it had in general been successful.

“We need a different, positive agenda. Of course, we talked about this at our meeting with US president Trump in Helsinki,” said Mr Putin. “No matter what differences we have, the first step is made.”

Mr Putin said his talks with Mr Trump had “led to useful agreements” – a statement set to further alarm lawmakers in Washington. The two leaders did not formally agree on a joint statement, but it remains unclear what Mr Trump may have committed to during his two-hour discussion with Mr Putin, where only interpreters were present.

Amid widespread criticism in the US of Mr Trump, who appeared to side with Mr Putin rather than US intelligence services over election meddling, the Russian president said “powerful forces” in the US were trying to undo the achievements of Helsinki.

Those forces were “ready to sacrifice US-Russia relations to their domestic political interests, ready to sacrifice the economy with what could hurt tens of thousands of jobs,” Mr Putin said. “They are also ready to sacrifice their allies in Europe, their own security.”

Russia’s Ministry of Defence had already spooked US observers on Tuesday with a statement that it stood “ready to implement in practice the agreements in the area of international security” that the two leaders reached in Helsinki.

The ministry said it was prepared to activate contacts between the two countries’ general staffs and other communication channels for talks on the extension of the New Start treaty, which expires in 2021, co-operation on Syria and other military security issues.

Outrage in Washington

But expectations in Moscow on concrete progress are so far very modest. Russian security experts said the most likely practical outcome of the talks was further US-Russian co-operation to de-escalate tension in south-western Syria to prevent a direct collision between Iran and Israel.

“Apparently there will be a buffer zone in the area of the Golan Heights, and Iranian forces will be replaced by forces from Damascus, ” said Andrei Kortunov, director of the government-backed Russian International Affairs Council.

On the topic of arms control, Moscow and Washington remain much farther apart. Mr Putin on Thursday urged immediate talks about an extension of the New Start treaty. But Russian arms experts said that during this month’s visit by John Bolton, Mr Trump’s national security adviser, they had sensed “very little appetite” on the US side for preserving the arms control regime.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump appeared to row back on his position in Helsinki, saying that he held Mr Putin responsible for Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election because he was in charge of the country.

One of the consequences of the summit that has triggered the biggest outrage in Washington is the White House’s move to “consider” a request by Moscow to have its investigators interrogate former US officials.

The Russian prosecutor general’s office said on Wednesday that it would want to question Michael McFaul, US ambassador to Moscow under the Obama administration, for “illegal activities”.

Mr Putin said Russia’s foreign policy was not directed at causing trouble but focused on creating conditions for the country’s sustainable development and working towards pragmatic goals.

Just hours before the president’s speech, the Russian defence ministry released a film broadcast on state television about new strategic weapons.

Sarmat, a new intercontinental ballistic missile, was being readied for flight testing, the ministry said. An animated presentation of one of those weapons hitting Florida, which Mr Putin boasted about in a speech in March, had unsettled Washington. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018