A matryoshka doll showing Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin dressed as a military pilot, in a souvenir store in Moscow, Russia. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

U.K. Worries About What Trump Could Promise Putin

(Bloomberg) -- As the U.K. prepares to welcome Donald Trump next month, there are fears at the top of government about what he might do when he meets Vladimir Putin.

One Cabinet minister, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that having watched the president’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, they worry Trump would want to burnish his deal-maker credentials by outlining a plan to reduce military presence around Europe’s Eastern boundaries.

Right after that June 12 summit with Kim, Trump called off joint military exercises with South Korea that had been an irritant to North Korea.

The U.K. has reason to be vigilant given its claim that Moscow was behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil. It’s also been thrown off by the prospect of Trump and Putin meeting just before -- or after -- the U.S. leader’s visit to the U.K. on July 13 and around the time of a NATO summit.

Britain has forces stationed on NATO’s Eastern frontier to deter Russian aggression. The risk is that if Putin staged any kind of incursion, as has happened in the Ukraine and Crimea, there could be a direct confrontation between U.K. and Russian troops.

Some of the senior minister’s concerns are shared within Prime Minister Theresa May’s government and Conservative Party. Another U.K. official agreed it was difficult to know what Trump might say when he met Putin.

May’s spokeswoman, Alison Donnelly, said “the meeting is a matter for them” -- Putin and Trump -- and that the “prime minister has been clear on our policy with Russia, and that is to engage, but beware."

Read more about the Trump-Russia saga

The minister didn’t say whether the U.K. had raised these concerns with other allies or the White House. British diplomats and politicians have struggled to read Trump since he took office, and been repeatedly caught out by him, leaving them wary of what he may do next.

Bob Seely, a Tory lawmaker and member of the foreign affairs parliamentary commitee, saw grounds to be concerned about what Trump might do. On his way to the Group of Seven summit, Trump blindsided other leaders by saying that Russia ought to be readmitted and then caught them off guard again by rejecting the joint statement he’d just agreed to.

He went from there to meet Kim, and was much warmer about the North Korean dictator than he had been about his G-7 colleagues.

"There seem to be three or four different policies towards Russia in Washington," Seely said in an interview. "The State Department is quite Russia-skeptic, but Trump seems quite pro-Putin. They veer between them."

Even if Trump doesn’t go so far as to offer Putin a deal, Seely said there’s reason for concern that a warm embrace from the U.S. president will set back efforts to contain the Russian leader.

“The worry is about the mood music,” he said. “Britain doesn’t want to give succor to the Russians. Putin will want Trump to say he’s ready to move the relationship on, without anything in return. But the nicer the Americans are towards Putin, the more Putin will think he can get away with aggressive behavior towards his neighbors.”

The date -- and location -- for the meeting between Trump and Putin will be announced Thursday, simultaneously from Moscow and Washington, according to U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton. He was in Moscow Wednesday helping pave the way for the encounter.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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