U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton is expected in Moscow on Wednesday for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and possibly Vladimir Putin, part of an effort to lay the ground for a summit between Putin and President Donald Trump.
Bolton, whom the Kremlin regards as an arch Russia hawk, is due to give a news conference after his meetings at 1630 GMT, where he might name the date and location of a summit, which the Kremlin has been trying to make happen for months.
Trump congratulated Putin by phone in March after the Russian leader’s landslide re-election victory and said the two would meet soon. However, the Russians have since complained about the difficulty of setting up such a meeting.
Relations between Washington and Moscow are languishing at a post-Cold War low. They are at odds over Syria, Ukraine, allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and accusations Moscow was behind the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain in March.
Expectations for the outcome of any Putin-Trump summit are therefore low, even though Trump said before he was elected that he wanted to improve battered U.S.-Russia ties and the two men occasionally make positive statements about each other.
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The Kremlin said on Tuesday it wanted to talk about international security and stability, disarmament, regional problems and bilateral ties. It did not rule out a meeting between Bolton and Putin, but did not confirm one either.
The summit is expected to take place around the second half of July after Trump attends a NATO summit in Brussels and visits Britain. It is unclear where it would be held, with Vienna and Helsinki cited as possible venues.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at the weekend he expected Bolton’s Moscow visit to lead to a summit “in the not too distant future.” He said Washington was “trying to find places where we had overlapping interests, but protecting American interest where we do not.”
Such a summit, if it happened, would be likely to cause irritation in parts of the West, where countries such as Britain want to isolate Putin. It would also go down badly among Trump’s foreign and domestic critics, who question his commitment to NATO and fret over his desire to rebuild ties with Russia even as Washington continues to tighten sanctions on Moscow.
The United States initially sanctioned Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea and its backing for a pro-Russian uprising in eastern Ukraine. Subsequent sanctions have punished Moscow for what Washington has called its malign behavior and meddling in U.S. politics, something Russia denies.
Some Trump critics say Russia has not significantly altered its behavior since 2014 and should therefore not be given the prestige that a summit would confer.