Trump eager to set up meeting with Putin on trip to Europe
As ties to traditional allies fray, US President Donald Trump seems to be gearing up for a major summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin.
White House National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis yesterday confirmed in a tweet that US National Security Adviser John Bolton will visit Russia next week to discuss a "potential meeting" between Mr Trump and Mr Putin.
The White House didn't comment further.
Two dates are said to be under consideration: either before the Nato summit beginning on July 11 in Brussels, or after the president's UK visit two days later.
One of the more likely locations is Vienna, the headquarters of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), of which both Russia and the US are members.
Earlier this week, the Kremlin insisted there were "no plans" for a meeting before the Nato summit.
But the prospect of a reversal has apparently worried European leaders.
'The Times' quoted a "senior Western diplomatic source" as saying an early Trump-Putin meeting, before the Nato summit, would "cause dismay and alarm" in Europe.
A Whitehall source in the UK talked of "fear" for the future of Nato.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had "no comment" on the 'Times' article. It was "unlikely to represent the views of the British people," he added.
The choice of Mr Trump's national security adviser for the Moscow visit has raised eyebrows.
Mr Bolton is known for hawkish views on Russia and has criticised the White House for failing to extract a price from Mr Putin for alleged interference in US elections.
The US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, would have been a more obvious choice.
But the choice was likely to be practical, said the former Kremlin adviser and security expert Vladimir Frolov.
It was not a "Nixon to China" moment, he said, referring to the right-wing US president's unexpected 1972 visit to communist China.
"Pompeo is busy with North Korea," he said.
"Besides, Bolton is not [Nixon's secretary of state] Kissinger - he is coming to execute Trump's irresistible urge to meet with Putin."
But while official ties have diminished, the relations between the leaders have remained warm.
The Russian leadership has pointedly refrained from criticism of the US president, blaming instead the "wrecking activities" of Congress.
Mr Trump has on his part refrained from serious criticism of Russia.
In recent weeks, the US president even argued for Russia's reinstatement into the G7 group of leading economic nations.
Russia was expelled from the then-G8 in 2014 following the annexation of Crimea. Mr Trump's comments went pointedly against the official position of G7 partners.
It is not clear how much his move represented US policy, or was an improvised snub to European leaders ahead of trade negotiations.
That will become clear as soon as Mr Bolton opens his briefcase in Moscow, said Mr Frolov.
"Bolton's aim, most likely, will be to agree on a flowery statement with the sole practical agreement to launch substantive talks and unfreeze channels of communications," he said.
"But even that will be interpreted as a big win for Putin."
Mr Trump appears to be virtually alone in his party and even within his administration in seeking to repair US relations with the Kremlin.
Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, castigated Mr Trump for his remarks on Mr Putin and for his animosity toward US allies and trading partners.
"The president has inexplicably shown our adversaries the deference and esteem that should be reserved for our closest allies," Mr McCain said in a statement.