Trump highlights common ground with Putin ahead of summit
HELSINKI — He is accused of helping him get elected. He has charmed him and egged him on. And on Monday, when Russian President Vladimir Putin meets President Trump face to face in Finland’s capital, he will see what he gets out of it.
Coming into Monday’s one-on-one summit, Trump faces intense pressure back home to confront Putin over Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, especially following Friday’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking and releasing Democratic e-mails.
In Washington and throughout the West, leaders are also pressing Trump to hold firm in countering Putin’s intervention in Syria and Ukraine by refusing to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
But Trump’s weeklong tour of Europe only served to underscore his common ground with Putin more than their differences.
In Belgium and Britain, Trump echoed Putin’s ideological worldview and his political posture. He decried immigration patterns that he said were destroying European culture. He assaulted the media as ‘‘fake news’’ and blamed the American ‘‘deep state’’ and a ‘‘rigged witch hunt’’ investigation for the poor condition of US-Russian relations.
And Trump’s recent moves to disrupt America’s traditional alliances, both with trade disputes and rhetorical broadsides against European leaders, enhances Russia’s position as Putin seeks to expand Moscow’s influence around the world.
In a CBS News interview broadcast Saturday, Trump named the European Union, a bloc of nations that includes many of America’s closest allies, at the top of his list of biggest global foes.
‘‘I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,’’ Trump said, adding that ‘‘you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.’’
Trump landed in Helsinki on Sunday night with what he indicated were low expectations and an unusually loose agenda for the kind of high-stakes international meeting that typically is tightly scripted with predetermined outcomes.
But Trump has an uncommon faith in his abilities to wing it on the global stage. In a trio of tweets sent Sunday from aboard Air Force One, he complained that the news media would not give him due credit for the summit.
‘‘Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough — that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!’’ Trump tweeted. ‘‘Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people.’’
As in last month’s Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, he is banking on his personality to forge a lasting bond with Putin that could improve US-Russia relations and solve some of the world’s intractable problems.
‘‘He’s been very nice to me the times I’ve met him,’’ Trump told reporters last week in Brussels. ‘‘I’ve been nice to him. He’s a competitor. . . . He’s not my enemy. And hopefully, someday, maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen.’’
In an indication of his friendly posture, Trump said he ‘‘hadn’t thought’’ of asking Putin to extradite the 12 Russian agents indicted by the US Justice Department when prompted in the interview with CBS News anchor Jeff Glor.
Trump went on to blame his predecessor for Russia’s election interference, telling Glor, ‘‘They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration,’’ and adding that the Democratic National Committee ‘‘should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked.’’
Ever since Trump’s surprise election victory, Putin has been echoing Trump’s claim that investigations into Russian election interference are sinister efforts to delegitimize and sabotage him by Washington’s Democratic establishment and ‘‘deep state,’’ a reference to the intelligence and national-security apparatus.
Both Trump and Putin have said the investigations are undermining US-Russia relations and preventing progress on Syria and other problems.
‘‘We are well aware of the extent to which the American establishment is being held hostage to stereotypes and is under the heaviest domestic anti-Russian pressure,’’ Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said last week.
In Washington, Democratic leaders called on Trump to cancel the summit over last Friday’s indictments. While there is precedent — Obama rejected a Moscow meeting with Putin in 2013 in part because Russia granted asylum to Edward Snowden, who stands accused of illegally leaking US intelligence secrets — Trump decided to keep the meeting.
Trump has pledged to ask Putin whether Russia interfered in the election, though he said he assumes he will again deny it.
US intelligence agencies have said Russia is likely to try to interfere in the fall midterm elections, and both Democrats and Republicans have implored Trump to sternly warn him against doing so.
‘‘All patriotic Americans should understand that Putin is not America’s friend, and he is not the president’s buddy,’’ said Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska.
Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, who recently returned from a visit to Moscow, warned that ‘‘the Russians are very prepared to argue on so many issues that they’re not in the wrong.’’
Protesters have dogged Trump throughout Europe, and about 1,500 people demonstrated in Helsinki on Sunday to promote human rights, democracy, and the environment, the Associated Press reported.
On Monday, Putin is likely to try to win concessions by playing to Trump’s eagerness to one-up Obama and reject establishment thinking.
One Russian objective, for instance, has been to win a more accommodating approach from Trump on Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, which included the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Putin claims that the Obama administration fomented the pro-Western revolution in Kiev that year in a bid to weaken Russian influence.
A top Putin ally in the Russian Parliament, Andrei Klimov, described Trump as a pragmatist with whom Moscow can work productively, in contrast to the ‘‘academic idealist’’ Obama who focused on ‘‘irrational matters’’ like promoting liberalism and democracy in places like Ukraine.
Asked last week whether he intends to recognize Crimea as part of Russia when he meets with Putin, Trump said, ‘‘That was on Barack Obama’s watch.’’
Monday’s summit is scheduled to start at 6 a.m. EDT with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö welcoming Putin and Trump at Helsinki’s Presidential Palace.
Trump and Putin will first meet one-on-one and then be joined by advisers for a working lunch. They will conclude their visit with a joint news conference, the first such event between an American and Russian president since 2010.