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Summer of summits for Trump

The success of his meeting with Putin will depend on seven areas of interest.

President Donald Trump during the NATO summit Wednesday

President Donald Trump during the NATO summit Wednesday in Brussels. Photo Credit: AP / Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Having met with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in June, President Donald Trump will meet with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Finland on Monday. The agenda and how both sides prepare for the summit will tell us a good deal about what to expect in U.S.-Russia relations. Trump has said he would “talk to [Putin] about everything.” But the list of issues confronting America and Russia is long and complex. Here are some areas of interest:

U.S. election interference. From America’s point of view, this is a central topic for discussion, but not for Putin. Don’t look for him to acknowledge meddling by Russia despite its penetration of U.S. social media — including fake ads. A report by Congress found Russian meddling in U.S. elections and balloting in Europe. Trump has plenty of evidence that Putin sought to divide U.S. voters and tipped the scales. But neither side will admit that.

The Russia probe. The Mueller investigation over alleged collusion between Russian officials and Trump’s campaign will be the elephant in the room. But neither Putin nor Trump wants to touch the subject, and both will blame fake news as an excuse to avoid the subject. The fireworks will be the final news conference as reporters try to corner Putin and Trump on collusion.

Crimea. The illegal Russian military annexation of Crimea provoked outrage and led to U.S. and European sanctions on Russia, and Moscow’s ouster from what’s now the G-7. Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted, but Putin has not called for Crimea to be handed back to Ukraine, so don’t expect the G-7 to become the G-8.

NATO. Trump’s NATO summit took place against a discordant backdrop; Trump and Putin share disdain for the military alliance. Trump reprimands NATO countries for failures to contribute 2 percent of gross domestic product to the alliance, but many have. NATO allies are most worried that Trump will move U.S. troops from Germany or lift sanctions on Russia. Putin will want to use the summit to push for sanctions relief. It’s doubtful he will get much more than a promise to study it.

Nuclear proliferation. This area is poised to make news if both leaders agree to extend the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which limits the number of each country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The agreement will expire in less than three years and Trump seems keen on reducing the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, so why not with Russia? But a new START deal would have to get by U.S. hawks like National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Syria. Trump and Putin will say they want to end the Syrian civil war. U.S.-Russian cooperation is key to stopping the slaughter. Trump will use the occasion to criticize Putin for Russian support of Bashar Assad’s regime, but no solution will emerge. Syria requires in-depth discussion — from chemical weapons to the humanitarian crisis, and the enormous migration of Syrians throughout the Middle East. A short summit is not likely to yield a diplomatic solution, but both sides will claim they want to see the conflict settled.

Culture and diplomacy. In the wake of another alleged use of a Russian nerve agent in England, it would be hard for Trump to reverse his expulsion of Russian diplomats after the first episode of the nerve agent in England. But the leaders can agree on people-to-people diplomacy as well as educational and sporting exchanges. Both like sports: Putin rides horses and has a black belt in judo; Trump plays golf.

The summit will be over before you know it. In the meantime, get ready for a Finnish dance with Americans and Russians doing the tango.

Tara D. Sonenshine served as U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. She covered Russia for ABC News and is career adviser at The George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs.

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