French President Emmanuel Macron has done it. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has done it. Yet when it was confirmed Thursday that President Trump would be meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Europeans could be forgiven for not greeting it like a routine get-together.
After all, there is a context. Trump is meeting Putin at a time when he remains at odds with his intelligence community over Russian interference on his behalf on the U.S. election. Russia, the president tweeted Thursday, “continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!”—American intelligence assessments say otherwise, and European countries themselves have had to contend with Russian election interference. Trump continues to be at odds with America’s European allies over issues like trade policy, climate change, and the Iran deal; in light of Trump’s ambivalence about NATO, European leaders have openly discussed the need for Europe to stand on its own. All of this presents a potential opening for Putin, who has long sought to divide the Western alliance.
Yet Trump has also met with Putin before—they spoke at length at the G20 summit in Hamburg last year, and then again at the Asia-Pacific economic summit in Vietnam four months later—even though this will be their first summit. The two are scheduled to meet July 16 in Helsinki (a city that boasts a long tradition of hosting U.S.-Russia summits) to discuss the war in Syria, U.S.-Russia relations, and other national security issues. At that point, Trump will be fresh off a NATO summit in Brussels and a long-anticipated visit to the United Kingdom.