US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, for a meeting that is expected to revolve around a range of sensitive issues from US claims of Russia’s election hacking to the Syria conflict and the crisis in Ukraine.
Both sides have talked down the Monday event, with Trump telling CBS on Sunday that he was going in with “low expectations.”
John Bolton, the US National Security Adviser, said on ABC that the United States was not looking for “deliverables,” and that the meeting was going to be void of any specific structure.
US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman also downplayed expectations, saying the two leaders were merely going to have a “conversation” rather than a “summit.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russia’s RT TV station on Sunday that he did not hold high expectations for the meeting either.
The Kremlin, meanwhile, tried to stay positive and hoped for the meeting to be constructive.
Trump is going to the meeting after sowing doubt over the past week about Washington’s commitment to old allies during a high-profile summit of the NATO military alliance in Brussels and his maiden state visit to the UK.
Trump has long criticized NATO members for their refusal to commit two percent of their GDPs to defense and putting the burden on the US.
He has threatened to leave the alliance and pull all American forces out of Europe, leaving them exposed to a Russia that European leaders think is getting more aggressive.
This is while ever since entering the White House in January 2017 and before that as a candidate, Trump has been reluctant to take harsh stances against Putin, raising the suspicion in and out the US that he would be willing to make concessions in the Monday meeting for better ties with him.
Hours before the meeting, Trump posted a tweet, blaming past administrations and the ongoing investigations into his alleged “collusion” with Russia for the current state of relations with Moscow.
Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential election that saw Trump beat Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is perhaps the most important issue that both sides of the political isle in the US are asking Trump to raise in the meeting.
Trump has been specifically asked to push for the extradition of 12 Russian agents, who US intelligence agencies claim orchestrated a series of hacking attacks that tipped the scale in Trump’s favor during his face-off with Clinton.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” Trump told a CBS interview on Sunday, crushing hopes for such an agreement during the upcoming talks.
Russia has time and again denied the allegations on interfering in other countries’ democratic process, dismissing them as part of a “Russophobia” campaign run by the West.