Russia’s Putin, despite sanctions, still hopes for better U.S. ties

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin still hopes to pull Moscow’s ties with Washington out of a deep crisis, but nobody will go into mourning if this ambition is not reciprocated by the United States, the Kremlin said on Monday.

Moscow is bracing itself for a slew of new U.S. sanctions despite Putin meeting U.S. President Donald Trump at a summit in Helsinki in July, an encounter both sides said went well.

Initial Russian triumphalism after the summit turned sour however as anger over what some U.S. lawmakers saw as an over deferential Trump performance galvanized a new sanctions push.

The U.S. State Department has said it will impose fresh sanctions by the end of this month, while bi-partisan legislation from senators calls for other curbs to be widened.

Moscow is also bracing itself for potential U.S. measures designed to frustrate its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call that the new U.S. sanctions proposals were unfriendly, illegal and would harm world trade.

“Let’s wait and see what will happen, if anything,” said Peskov, saying any Russian response would be dictated by Russia’s own national interests.

“The Russian president is hoping for the best and, despite all this, wants to pull our bilateral ties out of the deep crisis they are in. He (Putin) still has that desire. But at the same time, nobody plans to go into mourning if our approach is not reciprocated by Washington.”

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Polina Ivanova; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

Joy, disbelief as Korean families separated by war meet after 65 years

North and South Korean family members meet during a reunion at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort, near the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, North Korea, August 20, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – About 90 families from North and South Korea wept and embraced on Monday as the neighbors held their first reunion events in three years for relatives wrenched apart by the Korean War for more than six decades.

The brief reunions are set to total just 11 hours over the next three days in the North’s tourist resort of Mount Kumgang after the neighbors renewed exchanges this year following a standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to the reunion events at a summit in April.

About 330 South Koreans from 89 families, many in wheelchairs, embraced 185 separated relatives from the North with tears, joy, and disbelief. Some struggled to recognize family not glimpsed in more than 60 years.

A man selected as a participant for a reunion shows pictures of his deceased mother and little brothers living in North Korea, at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

A man selected as a participant for a reunion shows pictures of his deceased mother and little brothers living in North Korea, at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“How are you so old?” Kim Dal-in, 92, asked his sister, Yu Dok, after gazing at her briefly in silence.

“I’ve lived this long to meet you,” replied the 85-year-old, wiping away tears as she clasped a photograph of her brother in his youth.

Siblings Kim Gyong Sil, 72 and Gyong Yong, 71, wearing the traditional hanbok dress, colored pale violet, stood nervously staring at the entrance, awaiting their 99-year-old mother Han Shin-ja. They could not speak for minutes, wailed loudly and rubbed their cheeks and hands.

“When I fled home in the war…,” Han said, faltering as she choked with emotion and left her sentence incomplete.

The separated families are victims of a decades-long political gridlock since the 1950-53 war ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, with ties increasingly strained as Pyongyang rapidly stepped up its weapons programs.

More than 57,000 South Korean survivors have registered for the family reunions, which usually end in painful farewells.

For years, Seoul has called for regular meetings between separated families, including the use of video conferences, but the program often fell victim to fragile ties.

At his historic June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Kim pledged to abandon his country’s nuclear programs if Washington provided security guarantees, but the two sides have since struggled to agree how to reach that goal.

The reunions should be scaled up sharply, held regularly, and include exchanges of visits and letters, said Moon, himself a member of a separated family from the North’s eastern port city of Hungnam.

“It is a shame for both governments that many of the families have passed away without knowing whether their lost relatives were alive,” he told presidential secretaries at a meeting.

Lee Geum-seom, who has been selected as a participant for a reunion, is helped by volunteers as she arrives at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Lee Geum-seom, who has been selected as a participant for a reunion, is helped by volunteers as she arrives at a hotel used as a waiting place in Sokcho, South Korea, August 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

“Expanding and accelerating family reunions is a top priority.”

Ninety-three families from both sides of the border had been initially due to hold a three-day gathering from Monday, but four South Korean members canceled at the last minute because of poor health, the Red Cross said.

From Thursday, 88 more groups of relatives will meet, comprised of 469 individuals from the South and 128 from the North, Seoul’s Unification Ministry says.

For Lee Jong-shik, 81, Monday’s reunion was a hard-won second chance to track down his younger brother, Ri Chong Song, after the failure of a 2009 effort when a different individual showed up, to the dismay of the family from the South.

“I tried so hard, too, searching for you for seven years,” Ri told his brother.

The participants included the families of a prisoner of war and five people abducted by North Korean authorities during the conflict, though the six South Koreans they had hoped to meet had died.

The reunions, which began in 1985, can be a traumatic experience, say survivors, who know they are unlikely to see their relatives again since many are 80 or older and first-timers typically get priority for visits.

About 132,600 individuals were listed as separated families by the end of July. Of the 57,000 survivors, 41.2 percent are in their 80s and 21.4 percent in their 90s, government data show.

The oldest South Korean participant is 101-year-old Baek Seong-gyu, who was reunited with his daughter-in-law and granddaughter.

“Most participants are elderly and many suffer from hypertension, diabetes and have underlying medical conditions,” said physician Han Sang-jo. “Ahead of the reunions, we are thoroughly checking their health.”

Many brought gifts of clothing, medicine, and food for their North Korean relatives since anything deemed extravagant by Pyongyang was unlikely to pass muster.

Moon Hyun-sook, 91, said she put together clothes, cosmetics, and medicine for her two sisters, younger than she is by 12 and 26 years.

“Whenever I saw pretty clothes, I always thought how cute they would look in them,” she said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee in SEOUL, Hyun Young Yi in SOKCHO, and Joint Press Corps; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Clarence Fernandez)

Trump invites Putin to Washington despite U.S. uproar over Helsinki summit

U.S. President Donald Trump walks from Marine One as he arrives on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 18, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump has invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to Washington this autumn, the White House said on Thursday, a daring rebuttal to the torrent of criticism in the United States over Trump’s failure to publicly confront Putin at their first summit for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Four days after Trump stunned the world by siding with Putin in Helsinki over his intelligence agencies, the president asked national security adviser John Bolton to issue the invitation to the Russian leader, said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders.

What happened at Monday’s one-on-one between Trump and Putin with only interpreters present remained a mystery, even to top officials and U.S. lawmakers who said they had not been briefed.

Trump’s director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, said in response to a question at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado: “Well, you’re right, I don’t know what happened at that meeting.”

The coveted invitation was sure to be seen as a victory by Putin, whose last official visit to the United States was in July 2007, when he spent two days at the Bush family compound.

Both Trump and Putin earlier on Thursday praised their first meeting as a success and blamed forces in the United States for trying to belittle its achievements, Trump citing discussions on counterterrorism, Israel’s security, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace and North Korea.

In one Twitter post, Trump blamed the media. “The Summit with Russia was a great success, except with the real enemy of the people, the Fake News Media.”

In Moscow, Putin said the summit “was successful overall and led to some useful agreements” without elaborating on the agreements.

Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer criticized the invitation. “Until we know what happened at that two hour meeting in Helsinki, the president should have no more one-on-one interactions with Putin. In the United States, in Russia, or anywhere else,” he said in a statement.

Coats, who on Monday roundly defended the intelligence agencies’ findings of Russian meddling, also advised against a one-on-one meeting with Putin, saying he “would look for a different way of doing it.”

An official visit by a Russian president to the United States is a rare event: the last time was in June 2010 with Dmitri Medvedev, now Russian prime minister.

A senior White House official said Bolton extended the official invitation to Putin on Thursday via his Russian counterpart. No date has been set and it was unclear whether it would be timed for the U.N. General Assembly in late September.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

REJECTION OF PUTIN PROPOSAL

The week was one of the toughest for Trump since he took office 18 months ago as aides struggled with damage control and convincing Americans that the president did not favor Russian interests over his own country’s. Forty-two percent of registered voters said they approved of Trump’s overall job performance, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll taken after the summit.

Bolton on Tuesday laid out four talking points for the crisis-hit White House, according to one official: that Trump stress he supports U.S. intelligence agencies, that there was never any Russian collusion with his campaign, that Russian meddling is unacceptable and the United States is doing everything it can to protect elections in 2018 and beyond.

With Trump under fierce criticism in the United States, the White House on Thursday rejected Putin’s proposal that Russian authorities be present for the questioning of Americans it accuses of “illegal activities,” including a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

It was the latest about-face in a week of multiple reversals. Critics complained that Trump was given ample opportunity at a joint news conference on Monday to scold Putin over Russian interference in the election but instead accepted Putin’s denials over the word of American intelligence agencies.

Trump on Tuesday said he misspoke during the news conference. On Wednesday, Trump answered “no” to a reporter’s question on whether Russia was still targeting the United States, only to have Sanders say later he was saying “no” to answering any questions – not to the question itself.

Republican and Democratic U.S. lawmakers grappled with Trump’s conflicting statements as they discussed ways to show their opposition to what they saw in Helsinki, including strengthening sanctions.

On Monday, Putin described the proposal when he was asked about the possible extradition of 12 Russian intelligence officers indicted in the United States on charges of interfering in the 2016 election by carrying out cyber attacks on Democratic Party networks.

Putin indicated he would permit American law enforcement officials to observe questioning by Russian officials of the indicted Russians and vice versa for Russian investigations. He mentioned London-based financier Bill Browder, a onetime investor in Russia who said he exposed corruption there. Standing alongside Putin, Trump called the idea “an incredible offer.”

Sanders on Thursday said, “It is a proposal that was made in sincerity by President Putin, but President Trump disagrees with it,” a day after saying the proposal was going to be discussed by Trump’s team. “Hopefully President Putin will have the 12 identified Russians come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu, Richard Cowan, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey in Washington and Andrew Osborn and Olesya Astakhova in Moscow; Writing by Doina Chiacu and Mary Milliken; Editing by Will Dunham and Grant McCool)

Putin accuses U.S. forces of trying to ruin Trump summit outcome

Russia's President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with Russian ambassadors and representatives to international organisations in Moscow, Russia, July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Andrew Osborn and Olesya Astakhova

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused forces in the United States of trying to undermine the success of his first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump, but said the two leaders had begun to improve U.S.-Russia ties anyway.

Putin and Trump sat down for their first summit in Helsinki on Monday, an event that sparked a storm of criticism in the United States after Trump refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, something Putin denies.

Trump later said he had misspoken and accused “some people” of hating the fact that he got along with Putin. The White House has been struggling to contain a political outcry and confusion over the summit ever since.

Putin, speaking to Russian diplomats from around the world assembled in Moscow, said on Thursday the Helsinki summit had been successful.

“It was successful overall and led to some useful agreements. Of course, let’s see how events will develop further,” he said, without disclosing the nature of the agreements he referred to.

However, Putin said “powerful” U.S. forces were trying to sabotage what the summit had achieved.

“We see that there are forces in the United States that are prepared to casually sacrifice Russian-U.S. relations, to sacrifice them for their ambitions in an internal political battle in the United States.”

Those same forces appeared ready to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs and hurt U.S. business and security while waging their divisive political battle, Putin said.

‘NARROW PARTY INTERESTS’

Putin did not name names, but spoke of U.S. politicians who put their “narrow party interests” above the best interests of the United States and were powerful enough to be able to foist their questionable “stories” on millions of Americans.

He said it would have been naive to expect that the Helsinki summit could have resolved problems that had built up over many years in the space of a few hours.

“Despite the difference in opinions (with Trump), we did agree that Russian-U.S. relations are in an extremely unsatisfactory state. In many respects, they are even worse than during the Cold War,” he said.

But the two leaders had at least made a start when it came to improving relations.

“The path to positive changes has all the same begun,” said Putin. “It’s important that a full-scale meeting has finally taken place allowing us to talk directly.”

Putin warned however of the dangers of Moscow and Washington failing to continue to mend ties, saying the New START strategic arms reduction treaty would expire soon unless both countries took action.

“If today, right now, work on extending it is not begun it will simply expire in a year and a half.”

(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)

Trump expects ‘big results,’ including North Korea, after Putin summit

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about his summit meeting in Finland with Russia's President Vladimir Putin at the start of a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress at the White House in Washington, July 17, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

(Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Wednesday his meeting with Vladimir Putin would lead to “big results,” in a continuing bid to calm a storm over his failure to criticize the Russian leader for Moscow’s actions to undermine the 2016 U.S. election.

In a tweet Trump said he elicited a promise from Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. “Russia has agreed to help with North Korea, where relationships with us are very good and the process is moving along,” he said. “There is no rush, the sanctions remain! Big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!”

Russia’s RIA news agency, citing Moscow’s envoy to Pyongyang, reported on Wednesday that a summit between the leaders of Russia and North Korea is “on the agenda” and that it would be “logical” to raise the idea of lifting sanctions.

Trump met North Korea’s Kim Jong Un last month in the first meeting between leaders of the two countries, and recently received a letter from Kim expressed hope for “practical actions” in the future.

Trump had said he and Putin discussed reducing nuclear weapons worldwide.

“So many people at the higher ends of intelligence loved my press conference performance in Helsinki,” Trump said in a series of early-morning tweets about their Monday summit. “Putin and I discussed many important subjects at our earlier meeting. We got along well which truly bothered many haters who wanted to see a boxing match. Big results will come!”

Republicans and Democrats both accused him of siding with an adversary rather than his own country after he shied away from criticizing the Russian leader for what U.S. intelligence agencies say were Moscow’s efforts to undermine the 2016 election.

Instead, standing next to Putin Trump cast doubt on the agencies. On Tuesday Trump said he had misspoken and that he had complete faith in U.S. intelligence agencies and accepted their conclusions.

Trump also tweeted on Wednesday that his NATO meeting in Brussels last week was an “acknowledged triumph,” adding that his one-on-one with Putin “may prove to be, in the long run, an even greater success. Many positive things will come out of that meeting.”

(Additional reporting by Denis Pinchuk in Moscow and Alison Williams in London; Editing by Jon Boyle and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Trump sits down with Putin after denouncing past U.S. policy on Russia

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Jeff Mason and Andrew Osborn

HELSINKI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin for a long-awaited summit on Monday saying he wanted good relations with Russia, after blaming Washington’s own past “foolishness and stupidity” for the countries’ hostile ties.

Trump opened the meeting with warm words for Putin, seated next to the Russian leader in an ornate presidential palace in neutral Finland, and said it was a longstanding goal of his to improve the relationship between the two countries.

“I think we will have an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I’ve been saying it, and I’m sure you’ve heard over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is good thing, not a bad thing,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia's President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin shake hands as they meet in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

But to Trump’s critics, the friendly words had already been overshadowed by an extraordinary denunciation of his own country’s prior policies, which Trump tweeted out hours before the summit.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” he tweeted before the summit began.

The Russian foreign ministry “liked” his tweet, and tweeted back: “We agree”.

Trump’s opponents at home were furious, with one Democratic congressman tweeting that Trump had turned the White House into “a propaganda arm for the Kremlin”.

Putin and Trump met alone apart from interpreters before a working lunch with aides. Trump said they would talk about a range of subjects, listing trade, the military, nuclear weapons and China.

But, at least in his public remarks at the outset, he mentioned none of the issues that have lately brought U.S.-Russian relations to the lowest point since the Cold War: Moscow’s annexation of territory from Ukraine, its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, as well as Western accusations that it poisoned a spy in England and meddled in elections.

“Our relationship with Russia is strained because of the very malign actions he’s refusing to take Russia to task for,” tweeted Democratic U.S. Representative Gregory Meeks, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “Though relations were worse during the Cold War, at least then the US Presidency wasn’t a propaganda arm for the Kremlin.”

The Kremlin has played down expectations for the summit. It said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a “first step” to resolving a crisis in ties.

“Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.”

While Trump has been abroad since last week, the special prosecutor investigating allegations that Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election indicted 12 Russians on Friday for stealing Democratic Party documents.

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Finland's President Sauli Niinisto his wife Jenni Haukio pose for a photo in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto his wife Jenni Haukio pose for a photo in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

“WHICH TEAM DO YOU PLAY FOR?”

Trump’s foes at home have been scathing about his apparent refusal to criticize Putin. His 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Great World Cup. Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

Russia denies interfering in the U.S. presidential election. The state RIA news agency quoted a Russian source as saying Moscow was “ready to discuss, ready to undertake mutual obligations of non-intervention into internal matters”.

Trump has said he will raise the election meddling but does not expect to get anywhere. He has repeatedly noted that Putin denies it, while also saying that it is alleged to have taken place before he became president.

For Putin, that the summit is even happening despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies is a geopolitical win.

The summit caps a trip abroad during which Trump sternly criticized NATO allies for failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade, and repeatedly criticized it.

In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Trump.

“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

(Additonal reporting by Steve Holland in Helsinki and by Christian Lowe and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Trump to talk to Russia’s Putin about substantially reducing nuclear weapons

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and U.S. President Donald Trump hold a joint news conference at Chequers, the official country residence of the Prime Minister, near Aylesbury, Britain, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

CHEQUERS, England (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said he would discuss substantial reductions to nuclear weapons when he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on Monday.

“The proliferation is a tremendous, I mean to me, it’s the biggest problem in the world, nuclear weapons, biggest problem in the world,” Trump said alongside British Prime Minister Theresa May at her Chequers country residence.

“If we can do something to substantially reduce them, I mean, ideally get rid of them, maybe that’s a dream, but certainly it’s a subject that I’ll be bringing up with him,” Trump said of his upcoming meeting with Putin.

Trump added: “It’s also a very expensive thing but that’s the least important.”

The United States and Russia are by far the world’s biggest nuclear powers.

Trump cautioned that it was hard to do substantive deals with Russia because his opponents would say that he was too pro-Russian.

“We have this stupidity going on, pure stupidity, but it makes it very hard to do something with Russia because, anything you do, it’s like: ‘Russia, oh he loves Russia’,” Trump said. “I love the United States but I love getting along with Russia and China and other countries.”

Though Trump has not so far given specific details about what nuclear arms control treaties they would like to talk about, he and Putin are likely to discuss the possibility of extending the “New Start” treaty – a pillar of arms control.

They are also likely to discuss what to do about another pact known as the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) to try to dampen a high-risk nuclear rivalry between the two former Cold War foes.

Ahead of the summit, Russian diplomats have stressed the need for strategic stability talks, saying existing arms control treaties are fraying at the edges and they fear Washington will withdraw from the INF treaty. Both sides accuse one another of violating the treaty.

New Start, signed in 2010, requires both nations to cut their deployed strategic nuclear warheads to no more than 1,550, the lowest level in decades.

The treaty, which also limits deployed land- and submarine-based missiles and nuclear-capable bombers, expires in February 2021, but can be extended by five years if both sides agree.

A U.S. official said Trump would be ready to talk about New Start if Putin raised it, but it was not a big U.S. priority.

The INF Treaty, signed in 1987, required both sides to eliminate their ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km (310 and 3,420 miles).

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, additional reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Peter Graff)

For Putin, Helsinki talks with Trump a win before he even sits down

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo/File Photo

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – For U.S. President Donald Trump, a summit with Vladimir Putin risks a political backlash at home and abroad. For the Russian president, however, the fact the summit is even happening is already a big geopolitical win.

Despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies, the Kremlin has long been trying to arrange a summit, betting that Putin and Trump will get on well and stop a sharp downwards spiral in bilateral ties.

While nobody on either side expects big breakthroughs, including on U.S. sanctions, the summit is seen by Moscow as U.S. recognition of Russia’s status as a great power and an overdue U.S. realization that its interests must be taken into account.

“The fact that a Putin-Trump meeting will happen says only one thing: that for all its hysteria, the United States is not able to isolate or ignore Russia,” said Alexei Pushkov, a prominent Russian senator from the ruling United Russia party.

“It took a long time for Washington to get that idea, but it got there in the end.”

Western grievances over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its backing of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and its support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad haven’t gone away.

Other accusations, denied by Moscow, include that it meddled in U.S. and European politics, supplied the weapon that shot down a passenger plane in 2014 over Ukraine and tried to kill a former Russian spy in Britain with a nerve agent.

Kremlin critics at home and abroad see Trump’s decision to grant Putin a summit against that backdrop as conferring international legitimacy and status on Putin, something they say he doesn’t deserve given the lack of meaningful change in Russia’s policies internationally.

But in Russia, where the political system is obsessed with hierarchy, status and displays of raw power, Putin has “already got his victory,” said Andrey Kortunov, head of RIAC, a foreign policy think-tank close to the Foreign Ministry.

“It allows him to make his point that Russia is not isolated, that Russia is a great power, and to some extent can even claim an equal status with the United States, at least in the security field,” said Kortunov.

Expectations are high in Russia that Putin, with more than 18 years of global experience, will have the edge on Trump, who had not held elected office before he was inaugurated last year. The two men have met twice before at other events and spoken by phone at least eight times.

Vitaly Tretyakov, a political author, described Trump on state TV on the day the summit was agreed as “a neophyte in world politics” to whom Putin could explain Russian thinking and why Russia was right to annex Crimea.

Sergei Mironov, a senior lawmaker from the pro-Kremlin Just Russia party, said in another political talk show that Putin would definitely have the upper hand in Helsinki.

“… Vladimir Putin will give a real master class to the inexperienced politician Donald Trump,” he said.

START OF A THAW?

For older Russians, the summit venue – Helsinki – reinforces Putin’s narrative by evoking memories of Cold War show-downs between the Soviet Union and the United States at a time when Moscow was the capital of a real superpower.

While ties with China, India and the European Union may be even more important in economic terms, Russian politicians still measure their own country’s soft and hard power globally against that of the United States.

Nobody in Russia expects the summit to resolve the differences that have led to painful U.S. sanctions. A survey by state pollster VTsIOM published on Monday showed that more than half of 1,600 Russian adults polled predicted the summit would yield no tangible results.

But for Russian politicians who erupted in applause on learning that Trump won the U.S. election in hopes of rapprochement only to see ties worsen, Helsinki offers a precious opportunity for a possible thaw in relations.

Hard-liners saw a rare visit to Moscow this month of a delegation of Republican lawmakers as proof the tide is turning.

“Six months ago we suggested to them (the lawmakers) that we communicate by Skype. For them, it was political suicide, but now it’s not,” pro-Putin lawmaker Vyacheslav Nikonov, the grandson of Stalin’s foreign minister, told state TV this month.

Nikonov said Trump was now strong enough to pursue his own agenda.

“It’s one of the signs that the wind is blowing in our sails, thanks in large part to Trump,” he said. “I don’t remember any pro-Russian (U.S.) presidents, but I want to remind you that he (Trump) is one of the most pro-Russian politicians at the moment in the United States.”

Kremlin-backed media have stressed the importance of the summit taking place on neutral territory to ensure Trump is not seen as having the upper hand.

Dmitry Kiselyov, presenter of Russia’s main weekly TV news show “Vesti Nedeli,” said Moscow had seen how Trump had received other leaders on home soil, showing footage of Trump holding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s hand in a vice-like grip, brushing dandruff off French President Emmanuel Macron’s shoulder and glowering next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“On neutral territory everyone will be calmer,” Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, said in a report on the subject.

(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

South Korea scraps annual government war drill as talks with North go on

FILE PHOTO - South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Pool/Pool via Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea said on Tuesday it has decided to scrap an annual government mobilization drill this year as part of a suspended joint exercise with the United States but will carry out its own drills to maintain readiness. The ministers of safety and defense made the announcement at a media briefing on Tuesday. The drill, called the Ulchi exercises, usually takes place every August in tandem with the joint Freedom Guardian military drill with the United States.

Seoul and Washington said in June they would halt the joint exercise after U.S. President Donald Trump pledged to end war games following his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12.

Seoul’s presidential office has said the suspension of the combined exercise could facilitate ongoing nuclear talks between North Korea and the United States.

South Korea would develop a new drill model by incorporating Ulchi and the existing Taeguk command post exercises, which would be aimed at fighting militancy and large-scale natural disasters, the ministers said.

That incorporated exercise would be launched in October when the Hoguk field training drill takes place, the ministers said.

“Our military will carry out planned standalone drills this year and decide on joint exercises through close consultations with the United States,” Defence Minister Song Young-moo said.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

Trump will focus on Russia’s ‘malign’ activity at summits: U.S. officials

FILE PHOTO: Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to U.S. President Donald Trump during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 7, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria//File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will discuss Russia’s “malign activity” during a summit with NATO leaders and follow up in a meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin to determine whether Moscow wants to reduce tensions, U.S. official said on Thursday.

“The president believes a better relationship with Russia would be good for both America and Russia, but the ball really is in Russia’s court and the president will continue to hold Russia accountable for its malign activity,” Jon Huntsman, U.S. ambassador to Russia, told reporters on a conference call.

“We’re entering with our eyes wide open, but peace is always worth the effort,” Huntsman said.

Trump is slated to meet Putin in Helsinki on July 16. He will meet with NATO leaders the week before in Brussels.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Doina Chiacu and Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Gregorio)