Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed opposing positions on the Syrian civil war, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, tensions with Iran, and other international issues with U.S. President Donald Trump at the G20 summit Friday, Russian media reported.
The 80-minute Osaka, Japan, meeting occurred behind closed doors and the two world leaders kept most of the discussion private. Putin revealed, however, that he invited Trump to attend the 75th-anniversary victory parade for what Russians call the “Great Patriotic War,” or the Soviet victory on the eastern front of World War II. A Kremlin aide told Russian television that Trump reacted “very positively” to the invitation.
Trump made the most headlines in Western media with a joking scolding towards the Russian president, warning him to stay away from the 2020 presidential race. Last year, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals for allegedly creating an artificial social media presence and organizing rallies to distort the 2016 presidential election results. Losing candidate Hillary Clinton has repeatedly blamed Russia for her failure. Putin has repeatedly denied attempting to affect the results of the election.
Prior to his closed-door discussion with Putin, Trump told reporters they would also discuss “trade, and including some disarmament and some — a little protectionism, perhaps, in a very positive way.”
The Russian news agency TASS timed their meeting to last 80 minutes and cover a variety of international affairs topics. Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told the news outlet the topics for discussion were “logical: the general state of bilateral affairs, strategic stability and numerous regional conflicts – Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Venezuela, of course, the Iranian problem and so on.”
Russia and America are on opposing sides of every topic Ushakov mentioned. In Syria, Russia has steadfastly supported dictator Bashar al-Assad, repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons against civilians and other human rights violations. The United States supported Sunni Syrian rebels against Assad during the administration of former President Barack Obama and has since refocused its efforts in defense of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG/YPJ), who do not directly oppose Assad but do seek to establish a sovereign Kurdistan on Syrian territory. The YPG were the group most responsible for defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) in its “caliphate” in the country and wiping them out in Raqqa, the group’s capital. Trump has distanced himself from the group, however, leading them to flirt with an alliance with the Russians.
In Venezuela, Russia has vocally supported dictator Nicolás Maduro, a sworn enemy of the United States. This week, Putin once again parked military assets in Venezuela and Cuba, whose government controls Maduro’s, and categorically dismissed Washington’s support for human rights in Venezuela as “incompatible” to its position.
Elsewhere, the United States has vocally opposed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while Russia remains a close ally of the Iranian Islamic regime and reportedly expanded its ties to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ushakov said that Trump also appeared to welcome the invitation to Moscow’s victory parade next year and, on the topic of World War II, the two leaders discussed “whose role was decisive.” Under Putin, the Russian Foreign Ministry has aggressively dismissed America’s contributions to stopping the German Nazi regime and the Axis powers in the war, calling the storming of the beaches of Normandy, or the D-Day invasion, “not a game changer.”
The moment that appears to have attracted the most coverage in American mainstream media on Friday was Trump warning Putin, with a smile on his face and a wag of the finger, “don’t interfere in the [2020 presidential] election.”
“It was unclear whether Mr. Trump followed his sardonic response in front of the cameras with a more serious warning to the Russian leader behind closed doors. The White House did not respond to an inquiry about whether the president’s warning was sincere,” CBS News reported.
Prior to their meeting, Putin granted an extensive interview to the Financial Times in which he lauded Trump as a “talented person” who “knows very well what his voters expect of him.”
“I do not accept many of his methods when it comes to addressing problems. But do you know what I think? I think that he is a talented person. He knows very well what his voters expect from him,” Putin said.
Putin went on to defend authoritarianism against what he called “the so-called liberal idea” and dismiss “multiculturalism” as “no longer tenable.” He did not address the continued presence of ethnic minorities in Russia and leaders like Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in Putin’s inner circle, or his continued attempts to use military force to expand Moscow’s control over Ukraine, Georgia, and other post-Soviet states with non-Russian ethnic majorities.
Trump met with several other heads of government at the G20 summit on Friday including Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has scheduled a meeting with Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping for Saturday.