Russia shapes narrative of Helsinki summit
WASHINGTON — Russia spent the past week providing details of what it said were agreements made at the presidential summit in Helsinki, with no confirmation or alternative account from the Trump administration.
Not surprisingly, the Russian story line tended to favor the Kremlin’s own foreign policy prescriptions, and some of it contradicted previously stated US strategies.
Russia has sent formal proposals to Washington for joint US-Russia efforts to fund reconstruction of war-ravaged Syria and to facilitate the return home of millions of Syrians who fled the country.
Those plans were drawn up in accordance with ‘‘agreements reached’’ by President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to General Mikhail Mizintsev, the three-star head of the Russian National Defense Management Center.
Mizintsev, speaking Friday in Moscow at a meeting of planners from the Defense and Foreign Ministries, said Russia had already begun work on the ground in both areas but that international help was needed.
Russia’s US ambassador, Anatoly Antonov, said Syria had been the primary topic in the Trump-Putin conversations, in addition to “concerns that the United States has regarding the well-known claims about alleged interference in the elections.’’
Administration officials have said repeatedly in the past that no US or European reconstruction assistance will go to any part of Syria that remains under the control of Russian-backed President Bashar Assad.
Asked about Russian claims that agreements had been reached, a National Security Council spokesman said: “There were no commitments to undertake any concrete action, beyond agreement that both sides should continue discussions.’’
The spokesman, who described the talks on condition of anonymity, said the NSC and its Russian counterparts were ‘‘continuing a working-level dialogue’’ to review suggestions by Putin on cybersecurity and counterterrorism.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters at the United Nations after meetings on North Korea, said Trump and Putin had discussed “the resolution in Syria and how we might get the refugees back,’’ but he did not provide details.
Pompeo said he was ‘‘happy’’ that Trump wants the Russian leader to visit Washington this fall to continue talks. ‘‘I think it’s all to the good,’’ he said. Some Republican lawmakers have joined Democrats in saying inviting Putin to Washington would be a bad idea.
Russia and Iran have enabled Assad to decimate Syrian opposition forces with airstrikes and ground forces that have been blamed for much of the civilian displacement and deaths in Syria’s seven-year civil war.
Withdrawal of Iranian forces in Syria is at the top of the administration’s Iran strategy, most recently spelled out in a major speech by Pompeo in May, and persuading Russia to help accomplish that goal has been a key rationale for administration outreach to Moscow.
The Pentagon and US allies in the region have pushed back at Trump’s stated desire to withdraw the relatively small American military contingent currently in Syria, where it has organized and armed local proxy forces to fight against the Islamic State.
Removal of US forces on the ground, currently about 2,200, is seen as reducing whatever leverage the United States has to press both Russia and Iran.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats was among several senior national security officials who have said they have not yet been briefed on the Helsinki summit. While Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met with Trump on Thursday, other top military officials are still expecting a readout from the president or his national security adviser, John Bolton, this week.
Pompeo, who participated in an expanded meeting with aides after the one-on-one between Trump and Putin, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
Pompeo told Sergey Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, that Russia’s top officials for the Ukraine, Vladislav Surkov, needed to engage with US envoy Kurt Volker over introducing UN peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine, where government forces continue to battle Russian-backed separatists.
The White House on Friday rejected a proposal by Putin to hold a referendum to settle the future of that region.