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Kathrin Hille and Henry Foy in Moscow

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Initial euphoric Russian reaction to the first summit between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump has given way to a more circumspect realisation in Moscow: that any intention by the two presidents to improve bilateral ties may fall victim to an American backlash.

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Government officials expressed hopes after Monday’s summit that the two men’s long-delayed extensive talks would become the starting point for a gradual recovery of relations between the world’s two foremost nuclear powers.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said the summit had gone “better than super”. Valentina Matvienko, chair of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament, said: “It seems to me that the world will calm down somewhat now.”

One Russian diplomat said it had been “gratifying to hear [Mr Trump] say what we have felt for a long time, to reject all the Russophobic nonsense”.

But such satisfaction may be shortlived. Analysts said the US president’s cosying up to Mr Putin — and his disparaging of the US intelligence services while praising the Russian president — could prove counter-productive for Moscow.

“With the political fallout domestically [in the US] on the whole Russia investigation, the recent indictments and the way Trump handled this press conference, I think that we’re entering a period where Russia will become even more toxic than before in the United States, if that’s possible at all,” said Alexander Gabuev, an analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. “And that will haunt Russia-US relations for many years to come unfortunately.”

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Russian markets, which had risen over the previous two weeks partly in expectation of a potential reconciliation, reflected some disappointment over the summit on Tuesday. Moscow’s benchmark RTS index was down 2.1 per cent early in the afternoon and closed 1.3 per cent lower, as investors digested a lack of tangible progress in the talks and the threat of a backlash from a hawkish Congress.

“The prospect of rapprochement appears mired down, or — at worst — a non-starter, given staunch anti-Russia opposition in the US,” said Mark Bradford of BCS Global Markets in Moscow.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former oligarch, blamed Mr Putin personally for that outcome. “If Putin’s task was to humiliate Trump personally — he succeeded. If [he aimed to] improve the situation for Russia — he made it worse with this press conference,” he wrote on Twitter.

Some observers said Mr Trump and Mr Putin created some of the damage as they were carried away by the event. Andrew Weiss, a former Russia director at the US National Security Council, said that in his prepared remarks, Mr Trump had for the first time managed to explain why he wanted a more co-operative relationship with Russia and was prepared to take the political heat for that.

“If that’s all that had come out of this press conference, and there had been this kind of chumminess, I think we would have seen a kind of Singapore Kim Jong Un light. There would not have been a lot of process, there would not have been a lot of deliverables to point to, but it would have looked semi-credible,” Mr Weiss said. “But due to Trump’s own lack of discipline . . . it went off the rails.”

Nevertheless, none of this outcome is particularly surprising to the Kremlin, where officials have viewed the unpredictable, chaotic nature of the Trump presidency alternately as a catastrophe and as an opportunity. “We went into this meeting with very low expectations, not least because of the personality of the leaders we are dealing with,” said a Russian official. 

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Mr Gabuev said: “In the elite, people think that Trump is a useless idiot in terms of improving the relationship in practical terms. He won’t get us sanctions relief, and because of his very suspicious behaviour, Congress passed the CAATSA law last August codifying the sanctions.

“But then the way he discredits the whole system with the US at the centre, the US-led international liberal order, US-led alliances, is something that people have a lot of schadenfreude about.”

Security experts said the two leaders missed the chance to instigate a new round of strategic stability talks, negotiations aimed at discussing the crumbling nuclear arms architecture.

Instead, the two sides called for an experts’ council aimed at restarting a broader dialogue about the relationship.

That idea will be put to the test soon: Mr Trump and Mr Putin are expected to meet again on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November, or at a G20 summit a fortnight later.


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Source : https://www.ft.com/content/e74afe06-89c8-11e8-bf9e-8771d5404543

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