Moscow (AFP) – Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to hold a summit in a third country with Donald Trump at talks on Wednesday with the US leader’s hawkish national security advisor, voicing hope for an easing of tensions between the two nations.
Speaking after Putin’s meeting with John Bolton in Moscow, the Kremlin’s top foreign policy aide said the two presidents would meet at a place and time that will be announced on Thursday.
“Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can at least take the first step to reviving full-blown ties between our states,” Putin told Bolton at the Kremlin after the two smiled and shook hands for the cameras.
“We never sought confrontation,” Putin said, adding he regretted that the Russia-US ties were not “on top form”.
Bolton, who is famous for his hawkish reputation and tough stance on Moscow, said it was important to keep talking and complimented Putin on his handling of the football World Cup, currently taking place in Russia.
“Even in earlier days when our countries had differences our leaders and their advisors met and I think that was good for both countries, good for stability in the world and President Trump feels very strongly on that subject,” he said.
“We are most appreciative of your courtesy and graciousness here and I look forward to learning how you handle the World Cup so successfully, among other things,” said Bolton.
The United States will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada, and Putin said he was happy to share with Washington his experience of hosting the world’s biggest sporting event.
– ‘Time and place agreed’ –
Putin’s foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov said the two sides have “agreed on the time and the place of the meeting” but details would be unveiled Thursday, Russian news agencies reported.
Ushakov said the two presidents would focus on relations between their two countries, Syria and nuclear arms control and could adopt a joint statement to help improve ties as well as global security.
He added that Putin and Bolton did not discuss US sanctions against Russia.
US-Russian relations have suffered from years of disagreement over the Syrian conflict, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its involvement in eastern Ukraine.
More recently ties have been strained by a probe into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and suspected collusion with the Trump campaign, as well as by the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.
But since coming to power last year, Trump has sought to improve relations with Putin amid tensions between Moscow and the West.
Trump said this month that Russia should be re-admitted to the G7 group of industrialised democracies, from which it was suspended for its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
That comment came at a summit which ended in sharp disagreement between Trump and his G7 allies.
The last, brief meeting between Putin and Trump took place in November 2017 in Vietnam during an APEC summit.
Trump is due to participate in the July 11-12 NATO summit in Brussels before heading to Britain to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Queen Elizabeth II on July 13.
– Helsinki a possible host? –
Putin and Trump discussed holding a summit when the US leader congratulated the Russian president on his re-election in March, reportedly ignoring advice from his advisors.
Moscow said Trump had invited Putin for a summit at the White House but the focus has since shifted to a possible meeting on neutral ground.
US-based news website Politico reported this week that the two leaders could meet in the Finnish capital Helsinki.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Helsinki is “always ready to offer its good services if asked.” He did not provide further details.
Kremlin-connected analyst Fyodor Lukyanov said the summit would be a milestone of sorts given the dismal state of ties but stressed that any breakthroughs would be unlikely.
“The question is about finding some new approaches because the old ones no longer work,” he told AFP.
Putin is unlikely to make any major concessions on the Ukraine crisis or other sensitive issues, giving Washington little incentive to review its sanctions, observers say.
“A Trump-Putin meeting would temporarily ease US-Russia tensions, but new US sanctions are still likely later this year,” said the Eurasia Group think tank.
Earlier Wednesday Bolton met behind closed doors with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the first deputy head of Russia’s security council, Yury Averyanov.