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Trump-Putin meeting comes at low point for US-Russia relations

By CONOR FINNEGAN

President Trump will finally have his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a one-on-one that the president has been calling for since his campaign, but which many analysts worry could lead to the U.S. horse-trading with a bad actor.

The White House says the two leaders will discuss important issues in U.S.-Russian relations, and Trump will try to improve the relationship that is currently at its lowest point since the Cold War.

Indictments of Russian agents for alleged hacking and election interference. Sanctions. Diplomatic expulsions. The last few years, going back to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, have brought high tension between the U.S. and Russia.

Putin and Trump are also expected to also address global issues that have put the two countries at odds, including UkraineSyria, arms control, and North Korea.

“I’m not going in with high expectations, but we may come out with some surprising things,” Trump said at a press conference Friday with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May in England.

Here’s a look at the top issues.

Bilateral relations

“Hopefully, we will have a very good relationship with Russia,” Trump said at Friday’s press conference as he stood beside May, whose country is still reeling after a chemical weapons attack by Russian agents in March and a possible second one this month.

This is a common refrain from Trump, who has called for better relations with Russia since he was a candidate. “We’re competitors, not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy. And hopefully, someday, maybe he’ll be a friend,” he said of Putin at NATO headquarters a week ago.

Despite his attempts to forge that friendship, U.S.-Russian relations are acrimonious. Russia forced the U.S. to draw down its diplomatic presence in the country last summer — a delayed response to President Obama’s ordering expulsions of Russian diplomats in retaliation for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election. The U.S. responded by closing the Russian consulate in San Francisco and expelling more Russians.

Congress also passed sweeping new sanctions on Russia last summer that Trump begrudgingly signed because Republicans and Democrats say the administration has not done enough to punish Russia for its election interference and deter them from acting again in the 2018 midterms.

Trump has said he will raise the issue of election interference: “I will absolutely bring up ‘meddling’,” he said Friday. But in the past, he has cast doubt on whether Russia, in fact, did meddle in the U.S. election, seeming to give credence to Putin’s denials. Trump told reporters last November he believed Putin, only to have the White House walk that statement back afterward.

As Trump’s own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, told Congress in February, Russia has not been deterred: “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.”

After the chemical attack in the U.K., the U.S. expelled more Russian diplomats and closed the Seattle consulate, with the Russians responding in kind.

While there was a working-level group between Under Secretary of State Tom Shannon and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to address these issues, it has not met in months; Shannon has since left the State Department, with no plans for someone else to take on this role.

At the very least, Trump may come out of this summit waving a flag of truce, trying to halt the tit-for-tat downward spiral of relations and possibly improving them. But the U.S. actions have come over specific violations of international norms, including American elections, so any sanctions relief or restoration of diplomatic ties would be seen as a concession to Russia and a tacit green light for their aggression.

Courtesy: ABC News