Trump, Putin meet in shadow of US election hack charges
Just as he did in Singapore with Kim Jong-un last month, US President Donald Trump kicked off his Monday meeting in Finland with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin alone.
After their scheduled one-to-one private talks, which are expected to last for about half an hour, the two leaders will then be joined in Helsinki by government officials for an expanded summit, before taking questions from US and Russian media in a joint press conference.
In advance of the meeting, a major concern in the United States is how forcefully Trump will confront Putin in the wake of new information released in Washington, DC, this week over alleged Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 presidential vote. Putin has denied Russian meddling in the election, which was won by Trump.
US Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday unveiled formal charges against 12 Russian GRU intelligence agents who "conducted large-scale cyber operations to interfere" with the election - from phishing to malware and Bitcoin mining to copy, steal and release emails and data from the political campaign of Trump's 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton.
"The summit will fail, or will be viewed as a failure, if the president of the United States does not - either in the press conference or in Helsinki - publicly announce that the Russians have been interfering in our political system and in our elections and that there will be consequences if they don't stop," Aaron David Miller, an analyst at the Wilson Center, told.
Embattled by domestic politics at home, Trump argued publicly with Washington's allies in Europe in the lead-up to meeting Putin, whom the US president - unlike other world leaders - has never criticised or challenged publicly.
How Trump and Putin handle the latest revelations of the alleged Russian cyberattacks will overshadow and could well foreclose any new cooperation on the conflict in Syria, nuclear talks with North Korea or actions the Russian president might take that could lead to lifting the West's economic sanctions against Moscow.