On July 16, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin held a summit in Helsinki, Finland. This was the first U.S.-Russia summit since 2010, when President Barack Obama met with Putin's predecessor Dmitry Medvedev in Prague to sign the New START strategic arms reduction treaty.
The Presidents characterized the July 2018 summit as a first step to improving relations. President Trump stated his view that the United States and Russia need "to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests" and resolve global challenges. President Putin said his goal is to restore an acceptable level of trust and past levels of cooperation on issues of mutual interest.
Media reports have focused on President Trump's remarks about whether or not he believes the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, the summit discussions apparently ranged widely and touched on many issues central to U.S.-Russia relations.
Some observers suggest the Trump Administration's efforts at rapprochement are no different than efforts of past Administrations to "reset" relations with Russia. Others point out these past efforts were temporary at best or that rapprochement is not possible until Russia reverses its actions in Ukraine and ceases interfering in U.S. and European domestic affairs, among other hostile activities.
Neither the White House nor the Russian administration has released a formal readout of the summit, which included a private meeting of the Presidents. The main topics were reportedly as follows, based on transcripts of the summit press conference and media interviews in English (here, here, and here) and in Russian (here and here), and subsequent official clarifications.
President Putin said he told President Trump that "the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in U.S. domestic affairs, including election processes." However, Putin also argued that "you can't believe anybody" and insisted that one of the companies under U.S. indictment (run by a wealthy businessperson close to Putin) is a "private" company that "does not represent the Russian state."
Putin also expressed support for the Syrian regime's current offensive ("crushing terrorists," as he put it) in southwestern Syria, where Russia and the United States agreed in 2017 to establish a de-escalation zone. Putin indicated that Russia expected the situation to return to the prewar status quo governed by the 1974 Israel-Syria Disengagement Agreement, which provides for separation of Syrian and Israeli forces around the Golan Heights.
President Trump noted the importance of assisting the "people of Syria … on a humanitarian basis" and "creating safety for Israel." He said he made clear the "the United States will not allow Iran to benefit from our successful campaign" against the Islamic State.
With respect to Iran, the Presidents referenced their opposing positions on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), from which the Trump Administration withdrew in May 2018. Putin said the JCPOA "effectively ensures the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program" and expressed concern about the U.S. withdrawal. President Trump said he "emphasized the importance of placing pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear ambitions."
To date, there is no indication that the following subjects were discussed:
After the meeting, many Members of Congress expressed concern about the lack of clarity concerning what was discussed in the private meeting and are considering new legislation related to Russia. President Trump has invited Putin to the White House in the fall.