Summit announcement cautiously welcomed in Moscow

Kremlin officials hail meeting while warning to not expect any ‘breakthrough’ in Helsinki

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö holds a news conference yesterday over the Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Roni Rekomaa/Reuters

Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö holds a news conference yesterday over the Putin-Trump meeting in Helsinki, Finland. Photograph: Roni Rekomaa/Reuters

 

Russia welcomed US confirmation that a summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump would go ahead in Helsinki next month, but warned that the talks were unlikely to deliver a breakthrough in strained relations between the two countries.

Mr Putin has had to wait far longer than expected for his first summit with Mr Trump, who called for improved ties with Russia during his 2016 campaign for the US presidency. Instead relations between the two nuclear superpowers have gone from bad to worse with tensions building over Ukraine, Syria, arms control, Nato and cyber warfare.

Mr Putin and Mr Trump would discuss the “current state of Russian-American relations and prospects for their further development,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Thursday afternoon timed to coincide with a similar announcement from the White House.

The summit between the Russian and US leaders would be the “most important international event of this summer,” said Yuri Ushakov, assistant to Mr Putin.

Talks would begin on the afternoon of July 16th when Mr Putin and Mr Trump sit down for a “tête-à-tête”, followed by various protocol events and, possibly, the signing of a joint declaration by the two men. “We’re not ruling out achievement of some concrete agreements and results. Very many questions have piled up,” said Mr Ushakov.

“The very fact that such a summit is happening is a serious result,” he said.

However, Maria Zakharova, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, played down expectations that Mr Putin and Mr Trump might agree any substantial deals in Helsinki.

Realistic

“I recommend everybody to avoid using terms like ‘breakthrough meeting’, ‘breakthrough’ and so on,” she told reporters on Thursday. Problematic relations between Moscow and Washington called for a “realistic” and “pragmatic” approach, she said.

Russian senator Alexei Pushkov welcomed the summit as a sign that the US was prepared to take Russia seriously as an influential power essential to global security. “The very fact of a meeting between Putin and Trump speaks of one thing: for all its hysterics, the USA is not in a state either to isolate or to ignore Russia,” the lawmaker tweeted on Thursday.

Helsinki was an “ideal place for peaceful business negotiations”, he said, adding it was “time to take the [Russian-US] relationship out of its dangerous dead end”.

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of the Russia in Foreign Affairs journal, said talks between Mr Putin and Mr Trump could at the very least help re-establish a normal dialogue between Moscow and Washington. “A situation where there is no communication between the leaders of two nuclear super powers is absolutely abnormal,” he said.

The summit is a boost for Finland, whose capital played host to major cold war summits between leaders such as Leonid Breznhev and Gerald Ford in 1975, and Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush Snr in 1990, before going on to host a meeting between Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton in 1997.

Finnish president Sauli Niinistö said in a statement that Russia and the United States had been in touch with him about the summit only last week and said he hoped that Mr Putin and Mr Trump would discuss arms control and pay heed to his own concerns about tensions in the Baltic Sea region.

“Even small steps in reducing tensions would be in everybody’s interest,” he said. – Additional reporting: Reuters