Helsinki: President Trump stood next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Monday and publicly challenged the conclusion of his own intelligence agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election, wrapping up what he called a “deeply productive” summit meeting with an extraordinary show of support for a leader accused of attacking American democracy, reports the New York Times.
Trump and Putin also pledged a fresh start to troubled relations between the world’s greatest nuclear powers at their first summit, media reports added. Trump hailed as ‘‘direct, open and deeply productive’’ his talks with Putin on an array of issues from Syria, Ukraine and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.
The US President, speaking alongside Putin at a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, admitted that the relationship between the two countries ‘‘has never been worse’’ but said ‘‘that changed as of about four hours ago.’’ Putin, in turn, denied meddling in the 2016 US presidential election but admitted he had hoped Trump would win, saying: ‘‘I wanted him to win because he talked about normalising Russian-American relations.’’
Trump backed Putin’s denial, saying he thought Russia had no reason to interfere in the election and contradicting the FBI which believes Moscow was responsible for hacking the campaign. The timing of the summit has been exceptionally awkward, just days after the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian agents on charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in an attempt to aid Trump. The Russian Foreign Ministry has rejected the indictment as part of a ‘shameful comedy’ staged by those in the U.S. who try to prevent the normalization of Russia-U.S. ties.
Trump said at the press conference that ‘‘we’ve all been foolish… we’ve both made mistakes’’ and that the summit was the beginning of a process of restoring ties. ‘‘It is in the interest of both our countries to continue our conversation and we have agreed to do so,’’ he added, having earlier shot a wink at the Kremlin strongman ahead of their private talks. In a light-hearted moment, Putin gave Trump a ball from the 2018 World Cup, to symbolise North America hosting the tournament in 2026, saying: ‘‘Now the ball is in your court.’’ Trump, who praised Russia’s hosting of the World Cup, said his son would like the gift and threw it into the audience, where his wife Melania caught it.
Putin said the US and Russia needed to solve problems together and that Moscow was ready for intelligence cooperation with America on terrorism and cyber threats. Agreeing on the need for increased cooperation, Trump said: ‘‘If we are going to solve many of the problems facing our world, we will have to find ways to cooperate.’’