The US and Russian leaders came out of their meeting in Helsinki expressing a desire to cooperate on global challenges, after talks on an array of issues from Syria, Ukraine and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.
Standing alongside Putin at a joint news conference, Trump said he had “spent a great deal of time talking about” election meddling, without going into detail or explicitly condemning any interference, after 12 Russian agents were indicted in the United States. Rather, when pressed about the verdict of his own intelligence chiefs, Trump stressed that Putin had delivered a “powerful” denial of any Russian vote meddling and said the US investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller had been a “disaster” for the United States.
Trump again denied any collusion between his campaign and the Kremlin, while Putin insisted: “The Russian state has never interfered and is not planning to interfere in the USA’s internal affairs.” The US leader, bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief despite the election allegations, went into the summit blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
Afterwards, both men were determined to accentuate the positive. “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that,” Trump said, vowing the summit was “only the beginning”. Putin said: “It is obvious to everyone that bilateral ties are going through a difficult period. However there are no objective reasons for these difficulties, the current tense atmosphere.” Praising the “frank and business-like atmosphere” of the summit, the Russian leader said he considered the talks “very successful and useful”.
The two leaders met one-on-one for more than two hours in the Finnish capital for the historic summit, with just their interpreters present, before they were joined by their national security teams. M
Putin, basking in congratulations from Trump and other world leaders for the successful staging of the World Cup in Russia, said: “The time has come to talk in a substantive way about our relations and problem areas of the world.” Trump added: “Frankly, we have not been getting along for the last number of years. And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers.”
Trump began the day by firing a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into alleged Russian election meddling. “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted. Russia’s foreign ministry tweeted in response: “We agree.”
After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of prioritising his ties to Putin over the transatlantic alliance. But over breakfast with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.