Arriving late in a flashy limo, Putin takes driver’s seat at summit
HELSINKI — Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Helsinki almost an hour late, tossed off his jacket while still on the tarmac, and climbed into a new Russian-made limousine on its first foreign tour.
Those were the first moments of Putin’s arrival for his closely-watched summit meeting with President Trump — and they underscored his well-honed ability to maximize the power of the image and the drama of high-profile political events.
As he has done with many other foreign leaders — including royalty, popes, and former President Barack Obama — Putin kept Trump waiting, landing about an hour after his scheduled arrival time.
The automobile that then whizzed Putin through Helsinki’s blocked-off streets also symbolized the rising global prestige that Putin has cast himself as bestowing upon Russia.
The car rivals the US president’s ‘‘Beast’’ limo in its imposing aura. It’s nearly 22 feet long and five-and-a-half feet tall. Putin took a ride in it from one building inside the Kremlin to another on his inauguration day in May.
While Putin’s limo has a driver, the Russian leader appeared to be in the driver’s seat himself during the summit, in terms of generally exceeding expectations.
Having a one-on-one meeting with Trump, with only translators present, was a victory in inself, analysts said, and Putin did not have to struggle Monday to get more than that.
Seated alongside Putin to meet with reporters at the start of the summit, Trump congratulated Russia on successfully hosting the World Cup soccer tournament, which concluded Sunday.
When Putin later denied a role US election meddling, and demanded evidence that the Kremlin directed it, Trump half appeared to agree.
When asked directly whether he believed Putin or his own intelligence agencies, Trump said there were “two thoughts” on the matter and then changed the subject.
Putin seemed pleased by Trump’s uncertainty about who was responsible for the election hacking, saying the allegations that Russia had directed the effort were “utter nonsense, just like the president recently mentioned.”
Trump then noted that the United States and Russia have ‘‘not been getting along too well for the last number of years.’’ He said he hoped that would change, adding, ‘‘I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.’’
‘‘Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,’’ Trump said, as Putin slouched in his chair. Trump added that the ‘‘world wants to see us getting along.’’
The summit also included discussions over the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, a Reagan-era arms-control agreement, and the prospect of extending a 2011 nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
Trump’s main point about those difficulties was made on Twitter earlier in the day, when he blamed US “foolishness and stupidity” for years of escalating tension with Russia.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry recirculated the comment, which appeared to brush off longstanding differences over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its backing for rebels in eastern Ukraine and the Assad regime in Syria, and its suspected use of a nerve agent to poison people in Britain. “We agree,” the Foreign Ministry said.
The leaders said they would work together on nuclear arms control, although neither mentioned any concrete steps on drafting an accord to replace the New START treaty, which is set to expire in 2021 or addressing what US officials have said are Russian violations of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised Trump’s pragmatism in an interview with pro-Kremlin broadcaster RT.
‘‘Our president is very pragmatic, very open and consistent,’’ Peskov said of Putin, according to the Interfax news agency. ‘‘He always says that the interests of Russia and the people of Russia are the main thing to him. And therefore he respects the fact that Donald Trump has the same attitude to his country.’’
As Putin and Trump emerged from their longer-than-expected summit, they said they had made significant progress in forging a closer bond.