Trump and Putin to meet in Helsinki on July 16

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In this file combination of pictures created on March 26, 2018 shows Russian President Vladimir Putin(L) during his annual press conference in Moscow on December 17, 2015, and US President Donald Trump speaking about the spending bill during a press conference in the at the White House on March 23, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA AND Nicholas Kamm)

After 18 months of the Trump presidency, Washington and Moscow will come face-to-face in Finland. U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin will hold bilateral talks on July 16 in Helsinki.

CGTN’s Nathan King reports.

A wide-range of issues will be on the agenda, but the elephant in the room could be Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential race.

Despite Trump’s personal affinity for Putin, U.S.-Russia relations are at a post-Cold War low. The U.S. has imposed sanctions for Russia’s absorption of Crimea, as well as supplying arms to Ukraine (where Russia supports separatists in the east).

The U.S. has also boosted its military presence on Russia’s border in Eastern Europe, and is on the opposite side in the Syrian conflict from Moscow. It’s no wonder Moscow is downplaying expectations in Helsinki.

A view of the Market Square and the Presidential palace, in Helsinki, Finland, Thursday, June 28, 2018. Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump will hold a summit in Helsinki on July 16, the Kremlin and the White House announced Thursday. (Onni Ojala/Lehtikuva via AP)

“I recommend everyone to refrain from using the words ‘breakthrough meetings’ and so on. I suggest a pragmatic and realistic attitude towards these meetings. Certainly, Russian-American relations have been ready for a number of meetings on various levels for a long time because the bilateral agenda has been demanding it,” Maria Zakharova of the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

The timing of the summit will worry U.S. allies. It will follow hot-on-the-heels of a NATO summit, and a long-delayed visit to the United Kingdom. Trump has praised the leadership of Vladimir Putin while criticizing NATO allies. Trump has taken Putin’s word over multiple assessments from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

There is also an ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian efforts to influence the election. The probe is also looking into Trump’s ties to Russian business. All of this has the potential of overshadowing the Helsinki meeting.

Other U.S. administrations have tried to hit the reset button with Russia before, most noticeably Donald Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. Trump must be betting on his personal brand of diplomacy and his wanting of a better relationship with Vladimir Putin to make the difference this time.