Tue. Nov 19th, 2019

The Informer

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Trump Meets Putin: Live Updates From Finland

9 min read

Right Now: President Trump is in Helsinki, Finland, for his first summit meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

President Trump will hold one-on-one talks with Mr. Putin at an exceptionally awkward time — just days after the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents on charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The meeting will cap a weeklong trip to Europe in which Mr. Trump’s distaste for diplomatic norms has been made abundantly clear: He caused turmoil at the NATO summit meeting by demanding that allies spend more on defense, suggesting that Prime Minister Theresa May sue the European Union over Brexit and calling the bloc a “trade foe.”

• The meeting will be closely scrutinized for signs of whether Mr. Trump is friendlier to his Russian counterpart than he was to the NATO leaders or to Mrs. May.

• Mr. Putin proposed the meeting in March during a phone call with Mr. Trump, and American officials say the Russian leader desperately needs Washington to ease sanctions that have squeezed his country’s economy and oligarchs.

• American observers on both sides of the political aisle fear that Mr. Trump, who dislikes policy briefings and has said he needs no preparation for the meeting, could be an easy mark for manipulation by Mr. Putin, a former intelligence agent whom Mr. Trump has refused to criticize directly.

• The New York Times has live coverage of his seven-day, three-nation trip, from our White House reporters and European correspondents. Photographs from Mr. Trump’s trip are here.

They’ve called each other and met publicly at least twice on the sidelines of international events: at the Group of 20 summit meeting last July in Hamburg, Germany, and at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in November in Danang, Vietnam.

But Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin are holding their first formal summit meeting in Helsinki on Monday.

According to the office of the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, the American and Russian leaders will sit down at the 19th-century presidential palace. Some likely topics of discussion: nuclear proliferation, Syria, Iran, Ukraine and Russian election meddling, to name a few.

Finland said it would reinstate border controls for travelers from Schengen countries for four days starting on Friday, to tighten security for the meeting.

It was in the Finnish capital in 1975 that President Gerald R. Ford and the Soviet leader then, Leonid I. Brezhnev, along with other European leaders, signed the Helsinki Accords. The Soviets had pushed for the deal to cement their expanded borders, and Western nations used it to pressure the Soviets on human rights and other issues.

It was also in Helsinki that Mr. Brezhnev offered to help Mr. Ford win the next presidential election, according to a former White House arms control adviser.

Whatever you do, don’t call it a “summit.”

A day before Mr. Trump was to meet with Mr. Putin, Jon M. Huntsman Jr., the United States ambassador to Russia, played down expectations for the encounter, trying to downgrade it to mere “meeting” status as he emphasized that it was more about reducing hostilities than about delivering on specific policy goals.

“It isn’t a summit — I’ve heard it called a summit — it’s a meeting,” Mr. Huntsman said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, noting that there would be no state dinner and no joint statement from the leaders at the end. “This is an attempt to see if we can defuse and take some of the drama, and quite frankly some of the danger, out of the relationship right now.”

Still, the two presidents are expected to hold extensive meetings — including a one-on-one session, another with top advisers present and a working lunch — before they face the news media together.

And when Mr. Huntsman briefed reporters this month to preview the scheduled interaction, he referred to it repeatedly as a “summit,” and called it a landmark event.

“You know, I think the fact that we’re having a summit at this level, at this time in history, is a deliverable in itself,” Mr. Huntsman said at the time. “I don’t exclude that there will be some concrete agreement that will be announced coming out on the other end of the summit.”

Mr. Trump has spent the past few days trying to lower expectations himself, telling CBS in an interview on Saturday, “I go in with low expectations.”

But on Sunday, he parted ways with his envoy to Moscow in a tweet storm from Air Force One in which he lamented that no matter how well the meetings went, he would be criticized afterward.

Mr. Trump called it a “summit.”

— Julie Hirschfeld Davis

There is no giant balloon portraying Mr. Trump as a big angry baby in diapers in the Finnish capital, as there was in London last week and in Edinburgh on Saturday. In Helsinki, the final stop of Mr. Trump’s disruption tour of Europe, he has to share being the target of protesters’ ridicule and rage with Mr. Putin.

Shortly before Mr. Trump arrived in Finland on Sunday, thousands of protesters marched through the center of Helsinki in a display of equal-opportunity anger, directed at both leaders.

“Trump-Putin — the two-headed monster,” read a hand-painted sign carried by Paulina Pepaola, a Finnish woman who joined the march from a park near the central train station to Senate Square. “I am totally against both of them. They are working together. Putin controls Trump.”

Tapio Waren, a businessman in the construction industry, waved a mocking banner reminding the two leaders that Finns, according to opinion polls, don’t think much of their stewardship of world affairs: “The world’s a safer place because of you — think 3 percent of Finns.”

Mr. Waren said that he had nothing against either man personally, but that he hated their policies. “Each one has such terrible policies it is hard to say who is worse,” he said.

A rally in Senate Square at the end of the march brought together so many different people, often with disparate and sometimes contradictory agendas — rights activists, supporters of Ukraine, opponents of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, champions of L.G.B.T. rights, #MeToo campaigners and evangelical Christians — that the only common thread was the shared dismay that Helsinki was to host the first formal summit meeting between two such unpopular leaders.

“Trump and Putin are not welcome in Helsinki. Go home,” read a banner unfurled outside the colonnaded entrance to Helsinki Cathedral, which dominates the square.

A Finnish musical group, Tuomo & Markus, sent a message of its own, releasing on YouTube a version of Bob Dylan’s 1989 song “Political World.”

“While we believe in constructive dialogue, we strongly oppose to the existing world views and politics of Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Human rights, freedom of speech, gender equality nor climate change don’t seem to fit in their vocabulary,” the group said in a statement posted on its website. “Please prove us wrong,” it added.

But not everyone was inhospitable. A Russian-Finnish friendship association, RUFI, announced that it would hold its own rally in Senate Square on Monday to welcome Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump, and “to show our highly placed guests that not everybody in Finland has a negative view of world leaders, that not all thirst for conflict, even war.”

— Andrew Higgins

Juho Rahkosen, a pollster in Finland who says he supports some of Mr. Trump’s policies, wishes he had better news for him but can’t ignore the numbers: The American leader is so deeply unpopular in Finland — a Nordic nation of 5.5 million — that even Mr. Putin has more fans.

A survey commissioned by the magazine Seura and conducted by Taloustutkimus, a leading Finish polling organization, found that 83 percent of Finns — and 91 percent of Finnish women — have a negative view of Mr. Trump, compared with 75 percent for Mr. Putin.

“I am ashamed to have a guest in our country while I am publishing such terrible numbers,” said Mr. Rahkosen, the research manager at Taloustutkimus.

Even supporters of The Finns, a populist, anti-immigrant political party formerly known as the True Finns, don’t like Mr. Trump much, though they are slightly less down on him than is the population as a whole.

“Unfortunately, Finland has extremely negative attitudes towards Trump — I’m afraid there is not much he can do about this,” Mr. Rahkosen added, noting that Mr. Trump displays “somewhat the opposite” of the measured honesty, discipline and trust in global institutions that Finns expect in a leader.

“They think he is some sort of cowboy who writes his own rules,” he said. “This frightens people because they are not used to an American president who writes his own rules.”

Mr. Rahkosen says that he personally likes some things about Mr. Trump and that “Finland, of course, has far more to worry about from Putin and his actions” because it shares an 830-mile border with Russia.

But, he added, “You really need to have guts and courage to admit you like Trump in Finland.”

— Andrew Higgins

That Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin are to meet one on one — with interpreters present but no advisers — has added an element of unpredictability to a high-stakes encounter.

Mr. Trump’s perceived admiration of Mr. Putin, his urging at the recent Group of 7 meeting that Russia be readmitted despite its annexation of Crimea and his efforts to minimize United States intelligence about the impact of Moscow’s cyberattacks on the 2016 election have foreign policy experts and some in the White House wondering what he may give away to Mr. Putin — deliberately or inadvertently.

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, on Friday compared the danger of Russian cyberattacks with the warnings the United States had of increased terrorism threats ahead of the Sept. 11 attacks. “The warning lights are blinking red again,” Mr. Coats said. “The digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”

He said Russia should be held to account.

Allies including Britain say they welcome the Helsinki meeting, but Mrs. May warned that it must address Russian “malign activity.” (Russia is the chief suspect in an attack using a nerve agent on British soil that led to a woman’s death.)

Some analysts also note that while Mr. Trump abhors briefing memos, Mr. Putin will be well schooled before the meeting. Analysts say the fact that the meeting is occurring at all is already a victory of sorts for the Russian leader.

White House advisers have described the summit meeting as a chance to reset a tense relationship, and Mr. Trump has dismissed concerns, mocking those who point to Mr. Putin’s past as a spymaster, suggesting that he could manipulate the American leader.

“‘You know, President Putin is K.G.B.,’ and this and that,” Mr. Trump said. “You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”

When their motorcades carry them through the streets of Helsinki, Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, both fierce critics of the news media, will be treated to a lecture of sorts.

“Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press,” reads one giant digital billboard that toggles between English and Russian. Other signs, more than 280 in all, bear headlines about both presidents’ assaults on journalists.

“Trump calls media enemy of the people,” one reads.

“Putin increases attacks on media,” says another.

The headlines are from Helsingin Sanomat, Finland’s largest newspaper and the sponsor of the advertising campaign that placed billboards along the route from the airport to downtown Helsinki, where the two presidents are to meet.

The paper also produced a video showing Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin lashing out against news organizations, something Mr. Trump did even as Air Force One made its way to Helsinki on Sunday, when he tweeted that “much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people” and would not give him proper credit for the summit meeting.

“The two presidents are known for their previous attempts to control the media,” reads a subtitle on the video, which calls Finland “one of the highest-ranking countries in press freedom.”

“So,” it concludes, “these headlines are free to tell the truth.”

— Julie Hirschfeld Davis