(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin will hold their first bilateral summit as the leaders seek to reverse a downward spiral in relations that has been exacerbated by findings that Russia meddled in U.S. elections.
Russia announced the deal after Putin hosted U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton for talks in Moscow on Wednesday. Bolton, speaking at a news conference after the meeting, said the time and place of the summit will be released simultaneously by U.S. and Russian officials on Thursday.
The summit “is of huge significance,” Kremlin foreign-policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters. “It will be the main international event of the summer.”
Bolton said it’s “not unusual” for Presidents Trump and Putin to meet because other world leaders have also had such talks with Putin. Bolton, though, added that “the summit itself is a deliverable.”
“I don’t think that we expect necessarily any specific outcomes or decisions” from the meeting, Bolton said. “It’s important after the length of time that has gone by without a bilateral summit like this to allow them to cover all the issues they choose.”
Meddling a Subject
Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 elections -- which U.S. intelligence agencies found were aimed at hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately helping Trump -- are likely to be “a subject of conversation,” Bolton said.
The unusually warm discussions in the Kremlin Wednesday came amid the worst tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals since the Cold War and relentless pressure on Trump over the U.S. probe into Russia meddling and whether anyone close to Trump colluded in it. Putin has said there was no meddling, and Trump has called the continuing investigation a “witch hunt.”
Trump has pushed for improving the relationship -- inviting Putin to the White House in a March phone call. The mere fact of the summit is a boost for Kremlin efforts to ease its international isolation, though officials had played down hopes of any breakthrough.
“Your visit to Moscow gives us hope that we can make at least the first steps toward restoring full-scale relations between our countries,” Putin told Bolton at the opening of their meeting.
“It’s great to be back in Moscow,” Bolton replied, adding that he hoped to discuss “how to improve Russia-U.S. relations, find the areas where we can agree.”
Talks lasted about two hours, covering summit planning and arms control as well as the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea. U.S. sanctions weren’t discussed and election meddling came up only briefly, with Putin reiterating his denial of any Russian role, Ushakov said after the meeting.
Putin conveyed several messages “exclusively for Trump” to Bolton during the talks Wednesday, Ushakov said, without elaborating. The summit is expected to last several hours and result in a joint statement by the leaders, he added.
U.S. officials have said the meeting -- the third between the two men -- could take place at the end of Trump’s visit to Europe in mid-July. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said his Nordic nation is ready to host the summit after Politico reported that the White House is eyeing Helsinki as the preferred option. Bolton discussed details of the planning at a working lunch with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov before he met Putin.
Bolton, who became Trump’s security adviser in March, is a long-time hawk and Kremlin critic. After Trump met Putin at the Group of 20 last summer, Bolton wrote that “it should be a highly salutary lesson about the character of Russia’s leadership to watch Putin lie to him,” and that the talks offered a warning to “negotiate with today’s Russia at your peril.”
But in the Kremlin Wednesday, his message was different. “Even in earlier days when our countries had differences, our leaders and their advisers met and I think it was good for both countries, good for stability in the world and President Trump feels very strongly on that subject,” he told Putin.
Bolton also said he hoped to hear from the Russian leader on “how you handled the World Cup so successfully,” drawing a broad smile from Putin, who has made the soccer championship now underway in Russia a personal priority. The U.S. will co-host the 2026 tournament.
Known for keeping visitors, including Western leaders, waiting for hours, Putin arrived Wednesday with uncharacteristic promptness for his session with Bolton. “I hope we will be able to speak today about what might make both sides restore full-scale relations based on equality and respect for each other,” Putin told him.
Reversing the downward spiral in ties that began with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and escalated with Moscow’s intervention in Syria and the alleged election meddling is likely to be difficult.
To have something to show for the meeting, the two sides may manage to produce some agreement to try and prevent the collapse of decades-old arms control treaties. Both leaders have spoken publicly of the need to avoid a new nuclear arms race.
Putin and Trump should find it “relatively easy to agree” on steps to resolve accusations that Russia is violating a 1987 treaty that bans the deployment of intermediate-range missiles on land and extend another landmark treaty, New START, which expires in 2021, said Sergei Karaganov, a former Kremlin foreign policy adviser.
But “no major issues will be tackled because the level of trust is close to zero and because the Trump administration will immediately come under attack domestically if it strikes any deal,” Karaganov said. “No one needs any big agreements right now.”
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