Vladimir Putin will demand the return of two diplomatic compounds seized by the United States when he meets with President Trump for the first time in Germany this week, the Kremlin said, as a senior Russian official warned that Moscow’s patience on the issue was running out.
The Russian president’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said his government had shown “unusual flexibility” by not retaliating in December when then-President Obama confiscated the two compounds in New York state and Maryland and expelled 35 Russian diplomats in punishment for Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Ushakov urged Washington to “free Russia from the need to take retaliatory moves,” according to The Associated Press.
The White House has been reported to be mulling returning the compounds in an effort to improve relations with Moscow and, in recent days, Russian officials have warned that retaliatory measures have been drawn up if they are not given back. The compounds were nominally used by the Russian embassy as recreational facilities, but U.S. intelligence has long argued they were bases for espionage.
In a separate statement released today, the Kremlin said Putin would raise the issue with Trump when the two meet in Hamburg, Germany, where the G-20 is being held Saturday. The statement said that the Kremlin expected Putin would convey the need to find the “most rapid resolution” on the issue that they described as an “irritant” in Russian-U.S. relations.
The two leaders’ first meeting is highly anticipated, coming as investigations continue into possible collusion between members of Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian officials, while relations between Moscow and Washington are being described as at their worst since the Cold War.
There has been intense speculation for months over when the two presidents might come face to face, but since confirming the meeting last week the White House has been light on details of what they will talk about.
“There’s no specific agenda. It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about,” Trump’s national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, told reporters last week.
McMaster said administration officials had been tasked with drawing up options to confront Russia over “destabilizing behavior,” including cyberthreats and political subversion, as well looking for ways to cooperate on issues such as Syria and North Korea.
Today, the Kremlin was less phlegmatic, issuing a broad list of areas where it said it believed it could cooperate with the United States. The top issues listed for discussion were Russia’s dissatisfaction with U.S. sanctions, its desire to cooperate on international terrorism, the Syria crisis and improving efforts around nuclear arms control.
Most of the issues resembled those the Kremlin frequently raised with the Obama administration as well, but the statement did emphasize Moscow’s desire for a return to normal relations.
There is “significant potential for coordinating efforts,” the Kremlin statement said, adding “our countries can do much together in resolving regional crises,” including Ukraine, Libya and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The statement also said Russia was eager to restore business links with the United States.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, Friday told the news agency Interfax he hoped the meeting would lend clarity to the relationship and warned that not seeking to normalize relations would be a “huge mistake.”
In reality, however, it’s unclear that beyond the return of the diplomatic compounds there is much Putin and Trump will be able to ask of one another. In many areas, U.S. and Russian interests have little overlap and that has not appeared to change under Trump.
In Syria, the two have clashed, with last month a U.S. fighter’s shooting down a warplane belonging to Russia’s ally, President Bashar al-Assad. The White House has also said sanctions cannot be lifted on Russia until it withdraws from Crimea, while in the Senate both parties are drawing up new sanctions to punish Russia for its alleged election meddling.
“I don’t think we should expect any kind of a breakthrough,” said Maria Lipman, a veteran political analyst in Moscow. “I don’t think we should expect any significant results from this meeting. Not even the beginning of solutions to the major issues.”
During the campaign and after his election, some Russian officials and state media had expressed optimism that Trump would mean better relations with the United States. But such hopes have so far largely not materialized.
Lipman said she believed there was a growing realization in the Kremlin of Trump’s severely restricted ability to alter U.S. policy toward Moscow, given the intensity of the scandal around the Russia investigations.