The history behind Trump, Putin meeting in Finland

Published On: July 16, 2018 10:41 AM NPT By: Agencies

The world will be watching when US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Helsinki, but host country Finland is used to it.

In 1975, the US and Russia - then the key power in the Soviet Union - along with 33 other states, signed a major agreement in Helsinki to defuse Cold War tensions.

Known as the Helsinki Final Act, the agreement was reached at a security conference attended by the then US president Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, among others.

The second important meeting between the US and Russian leaders in Helsinki took place in 1990, when president George Bush met his Russian counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev to discuss Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which would later lead to a US intervention and the first Gulf War.

Bill Clinton also met Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki in 1997, when the two presidents discussed the expansion of NATO in the Baltic countries. It was during this meeting that Clinton invited Russia to join G7, which then became the G8.

Things may yet come full circle at Helsinki: Russia was expelled from the group over the Ukraine crisis; but ahead of a G7 summit last month, Trump suggested Russia should be welcomed back into the fold.

Finland as a whole, which claimed independence from the Russian Empire in 1917, has historically maintained a neutral stance in disputes between Russia and the West. During the Cold War, Finland had good trade and diplomatic relations with both sides.

To date, although a part of the European Union, Finland has not joined NATO like most EU member states, and is able to retain strategic neutrality in the region.

Perhaps for this reason, the Finnish capital was the venue for talks in 2008 between the then chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, Mike Mullen, and Russian military chief Nikolai Makarov in the wake of Russia's war on Georgia.

Finland also hosted unofficial talks between representatives from North Korea, South Korea and the US earlier this year, in anticipation of the summits between North and South Korea, and later between North Korea and the US.

Mr Trump and Mr Putin have both been targeted by billboards emphasising the case for press freedom.

A Finnish newspaper is using freedom of the press to make their message loud and clear to world leaders.

The billboards have been installed by Helsingin Sanomat in line with the pair’s one-on-one summit in Helsinki.

In a tweet, editor-in-chief Kaius Niemi said the publication wanted to “remind them of the importance of free press”.

“As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Helsinki, we want to remind them of the importance of free press," the tweet read.

"Three hundred billboards on the routes from the airport to the summit are filled with news headlines regarding the presidents’ attitude towards the press freedom.”

The billboards, which appear in English and Russian, feature headlines published from previous year of their relationship with the media.

"Trump calls media the enemy of the people", “Mr President, welcome to the land of free press” and “Trump continues to ban reporters” are a few of the headlines on the billboards.

The billboards come as Mr Trump touches down in Finland for his highly-anticipated summit with Putin just hours after telling an interviewer that he was going into the meeting with "low expectations".

On the way to meet with a leader who has cracked down on the press in his country, Trump tweeted that the US news media was the "enemy of the people" and complained that "no matter how well I do at the summit" he would "face criticism that it wasn't good enough."

Mr Trump said in the interview with CBS News that he had given no thought to asking Putin to extradite the dozen Russian military intelligence officers indicted this past week on charges related to the hacking of Democratic targets in the 2016 US presidential election.

But after the question, Mr Trump said "certainly I'll be asking about it" although extradition is high unlikely.

The US doesn't have an extradition treaty with Moscow and can't force the Russians to hand over citizens. Russia's constitution also prohibits turning over citizens to foreign governments.

Mr Trump flew in to Finland, the final stop on a week-long trip that began last Tuesday, from Scotland.

He and his wife Melania spent the weekend at a golf resort Trump owns in Turnberry.

He will return to the White House after his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, the Finnish capital.

Near Trump's hotel, police roped off a group of about 60 mostly male pro-Trump demonstrators waving American flags.

Big banners said "Welcome Trump" and "God Bless D & M Trump" and a helicopter hovered overhead.

Chants of "We Love Trump, We Love Trump" broke out as the president's motorcade passed and Trump waved.

Mr Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said it would be "pretty silly" for him to ask Putin to hand over the indicted Russians.

"For the president to demand something that isn't going to happen puts the president in a weak position, and I think the president has made it very clear he intends to approach this discussion from a position of strength," Mr Bolton said in a separate interview.

Mr Trump told CBS News such sessions were beneficial and cited his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"Nothing bad is going to come out of it (Helsinki), and maybe some good will come out," Trump said.

He described the European Union, a bloc of nation's that includes many of America's closest allies, as a "foe," particularly on trade.

"I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade," Trump said, adding that "you wouldn't think of the European Union but they're a foe."

He said Russia is a foe "in certain respects" and that China is a foe "economically ... but that doesn't mean they are bad. It doesn't mean anything. It means that they are competitive."

Mr Trump has been reluctant to criticize Putin over the years and has described him as a competitor in recent days.

The US President and his Russian counterpart have held talks twice before.

Their first meeting came last July while both attended an international summit and lasted more than two hours, well over the scheduled 30 minutes.

The leaders also met last year during a separate summit in Vietnam.

But Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador to Russia, said their next meeting was "really the first time for both presidents to actually sit across the table and have a conversation and I hope it's a detailed conversation about where we might be able to find some overlapping and shared interests".

Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican have called on Mr Trump to pull out of the meeting unless he is willing to make Russian election-meddling the top issue. Huntsman said the summit must go on because Russian engagement is needed to solve some international issues.

"The collective blood pressure between the United States and Russia is off-the-charts high so it's a good thing these presidents are getting together," Mr Huntsman said.

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