By Denis Pinchuk and Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin hopes next week’s U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki may pave the way for U.S. President Donald Trump to visit Moscow and for President Vladimir Putin to make an official visit to Washington, it said on Friday.
Neither side expects the one-day summit on Monday, the first between the two leaders, to yield major policy breakthroughs given the battered state of U.S.-Russia relations, which are languishing at their lowest ebb since the Cold War.
But the Kremlin, which has long pushed for such a meeting, hopes it will be the beginning of a thaw that will allow ties to be gradually rebuilt and for the two to cooperate pragmatically in areas where they have common interests.
“You never know but let’s see, perhaps there will be a conversation about concrete visits to Moscow or to Washington,” Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters on Friday, calling the summit “the main event of the summer”.
“We want there to be a possibility that these talks create an atmosphere that would allow us to discuss future contacts and, in particular, normal contacts in the form of visits to our respective countries.”
Ushakov said the summit, which will be held in Finland’s presidential palace in central Helsinki, would begin with the two leaders holding one-to-one talks with only interpreters present.
Negotiations would then be widened to include members of both delegations, he said, adding that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold parallel talks in Helsinki with his U.S. counterpart, Mike Pompeo.
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 will hang over the event.
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 this year with a nerve agent.
“It’s obvious to everyone that cooperation between our countries has been in crisis recently,” said Ushakov. “(But) it seems to us that there are no objective reasons for the tension that has built up.”
“Trump has said he views Putin as a competitor. I would say that we view Trump as a negotiating partner and hope that negotiations will be continued (after the summit).”
He said the Cold War had ended a long time ago, and that in some areas, such as international security, arms control, and fighting international terrorism, Russian and U.S. interests coincided.
Iran’s presence in Syria would be discussed on Monday, he said. He added that Russia was also ready to look at any “facts” about alleged interference in U.S. politics, something Moscow has flatly denied.
One area where the two are at serious loggerheads is over plans for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which is set to increase Russian energy exports to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
Trump, speaking in Britain on Friday, called the pipeline “a horrible mistake” and told NATO leaders on Wednesday he thought Germany had become a “captive” of Russia due to its energy reliance.
Ushakov said the Kremlin was worried by U.S. opposition to the project and would argue its corner if the issue came up in Helsinki.
“The U.S. position strikes us as not constructive and in contradiction to the rules of international trade and economic relations,” he said.