US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are set to meet this week during the G20 summit in Hamburg on July 7-8. This was confirmed on July 29 by US National Security Adviser Herbert McMaster.
However, much uncertainty surrounds this meeting as the exact date and the format in which this it is to be held are as yet unclear. US State Department and National Security Council officials have been pushing Trump for a brief, informal meeting on the sidelines of the summit, perhaps only lasting a few minutes or a meeting between US and Russian delegations, in which the two presidents may or may not be involved at all.
Trump himself is reportedly eager for the meeting to take place, but the Kremlin does not seem to be in any rush to accommodate Trump’s wishes. Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov stated last Friday that the format of the meeting is yet to be discussed and that the Kremlin is “coordinating the time” and will outline to the Americans the program of their stay in Hamburg, tell them which meetings have already been agreed upon and try to pencil in a meeting with President Trump.
Putin is set to meet with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, French President Emmanuel Macron and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in. Besides that, according to Ushakov, there will be “short meetings on the go with a range of state leaders.”
Trump’s schedule involves meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indonesian Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He is also set to visit Poland and France during his trip to Europe and there are rumours that he may be planning a ‘sneak’ visit to the UK as well.
According to McMaster, one of the top priorities of the US President’s trip is to develop a common approach to Russia and he added that Trump wants the US and Russia to have a more constructive relationship.
However, Putin stated earlier in June that while the US and Russia maintained dialogue across international platforms, the foundation of mutual cooperation had been ruined, placing bilateral relations at “the lowest point since the Cold War.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also not getting his hopes up. He stated that the Kremlin expects that “our presidents’ meeting in Hamburg will bring clarity to the issue of the prospects of Russian-US cooperation.” He added that Russia is “seeing the concern with which countries of the world percieve the current abnormal state of these relations, which fell hostage to the internal political struggle in the US.”
Adding fuel to the fire, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said during his recent visit to Washington that he was planning to “arm” US President Trump with information so he does not fall prey to any “injustice” from Russian President Putin. “It is very important that, as Ukrainian president, my meeting in the White House is sooner than the meeting with Putin,” Poroshenko said.
Whether or not Trump will fall for Poroshenko’s tricks is another matter, but it is certain that if a proper meeting between the US and Russian presidents is to take place, there will be plenty of delicate subject matters to discuss.
Another interesting factor is that Henry Kissinger went to visit Trump at the White House in May, while Trump had also met with Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak earlier that morning. Kissinger subsequently went to Moscow in June and met with Putin and Lavrov. One wonders whether this had anything to do with the upcoming meeting between Trump and Putin and whether Kissinger is perhaps trying to broker something between the two leaders.
Whatever the case, Russia still does not seem too interested in the G20 summit meeting and is perhaps only accommodating the US out of politeness, as sources say that “no one takes the US seriously any longer”. Russia clearly does not think that this meeting is going to have any serious impact on US-Russia relations and as Lavrov suggested, Russia merely sees this as an opportunity to gauge the US’s standpoint on Russia. One can assume that Russia has virtually given up any expectation of positive change within the US administration, if they even had such expectations in the first place.