Trump and Putin are finally coming face-to-face — and who knows what will happen.
President Trump is scheduled to have his first meeting in office with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hamburg.
It’s a long-awaited encounter that is brimming with subplots — and, for now, shrouded in ambiguity.
There will reportedly only be four other people present — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and two translators.
Russia renewed several Trump trademarks through 2016
The White House has hinted at a few details about the discussion, but said there is “no specific agenda.” It’s possible there won’t be any agenda at all — the Los Angeles Times reported that Trump’s aides have prepared Putin briefings with “tweet-length sentences” in hopes that Trump might actually read them.
Whatever happens, the world will be watching for every little detail of their meetup.
These are the biggest questions before the big moment:
Will Trump confront Putin about the election?
As of Thursday, Trump has still yet to fully endorse the U.S. intelligence findings that the Russian government led cyber attacks on the 2016 campaign — apparently with the aim of helping Trump prevail.
Russia renewed several Trump trademarks through 2016
Even as multiple U.S. intelligence agencies have supported this conclusion, Trump keeps saying he’s not so sure. During a press conference in Warsaw, he said he thought Russia was responsible but “other countries” — he didn’t say which — might have also attacked America.
Even so, Trump has been criticizing former President Barack Obama for not punishing Russia, despite Trump himself not saying what he will do about it.
Any election talk seems to be a lose-lose situation for Trump. If he brings up the hacks with Putin, Trump will likely be expected to finally follow through on a proper punishment. If not, even more suspicions will be raised about why Trump is taking no action.
Will the Russia investigations come up?
Trump will be talking to Putin while his campaign remains at the center at several federal investigations for possible collusion with the Kremlin.
Trump in tweets accuses Obama, Dems of hiding Russia hacking info
Trump and Putin have both denied any backdealing, but ties between Trump associates and Kremlin officials keep bubbling up as the probes continue. Trump, meanwhile, has dismissed the investigations as a “witch hunt.”
Once again, it will be telling if Trump says a single thing about the investigations, or if he says nothing at all.
Will they discuss international conflicts?
The U.S. and Russia have been starkly divided on how to handle the Syrian civil war. Putin’s army has been backing Syrian President Bashar Assad in the fight against ISIS, while the U.S. has been supporting anti-government rebels and retaliating against Assad for his attacks on his own people. Syria now stands as one of the most gaping divides between American and Russian interests.
Tillerson said this week the U.S. is open to establishing no-fly zones in Syria in coordination with Russia as well as jointly setting up a truce monitoring and humanitarian aid delivery mechanism.
President ‘T’ blasts Obama on Russia meddling in Twitter ramble
Meanwhile, both the U.S. and Russia have condemned North Korea for its recent missile testing, but Russia blocked an American resolution with the United Nations calling for “significant measures” taking the isolated nation to ask.
Both men have been critical of NATO, though Trump this week finally confirmed he is committed to its Article 5 protections for allied nations.
If Trump and Putin are likely to butt heads on anything, it is these conflicts — and neither is likely to give an inch.
Will Putin push back on sanctions?
One of the Trump administration’s few repudiations of the Kremlin so far have been sanctions as punishment for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. There are also still sanctions in place from the Obama administration as retaliation for Russia’s campaign meddling.
Russia targeted 21 states’ election systems in 2016: officials
Trump may fashion himself as a master dealmaker, but it’s Putin who will probably be looking for leverage this time. There’s no telling how Trump will stand if directly confronted about the sanctions, though he said Thursday he would still urge Russia to “cease its destabilizing activities in Ukraine and elsewhere, and its support for hostile regimes.”
How friendly will Trump be?
Trump has been baffling his political critics with his chummy praise of Putin. He bragged about their interactions even before entering politics — even though he now denies that they ever met — and has yet to say an unkind word about him in office.
Even if few details emerge about Trump’s discussion with Putin, their body language and demeanor will probably tell much of the story. Trump runs the risk of looking weak in America’s eyes if he acts too friendly with the Russian strongman.
He is at least likely to get along with Putin much better than former President Barack Obama did. Whenever Obama and Putin met on the sidelines of a diplomatic event, they spoke little to each other as their epic staredowns said everything.
Send a Letter to the Editor