Helsinki – U.S. President Donald Trump congratulated his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Russia having hosted “one of the best” FIFA World Cups in history as the two leaders started their first full-fledged summit in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday.
“First of all, Mr President I’d like to congratulate you on a really great World Cup. One of the best ever from what everybody tells me and also for your team, itself, doing so well,” Trump said.
He added that had watched the semi-finals and the final, which were “spectacular,” while the entire tournament was “beautifully” organised.
Putin and Trump arrived in Finland on Monday for their first one-on-one talks that will cover a wide range of issues, including Syria, Ukraine and denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
Russia’s first-ever World Cup came to a close on Sunday, with France beating Croatia 4-2 in Moscow to lift the trophy for the second time.
Russia reached the quarter-finals of their home tournament after advancing to the knockout stage for the first time since the end of the Soviet era.
Trump’s foes at home have been scathing about his apparent refusal to criticize Putin.
His 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Great World Cup. Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”
Russia denies interfering in the U.S. presidential election.
The state RIA news agency quoted a Russian source as saying Moscow was “ready to discuss, ready to undertake mutual obligations of non-intervention into internal matters”.
Trump has said he will raise the election meddling but does not expect to get anywhere. He has repeatedly noted that Putin denies it, while also saying that it is alleged to have taken place before he became president.
For Putin, that the summit is even happening despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies is a geopolitical win.
The summit caps a trip abroad during which Trump sternly criticized NATO allies for failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU.
He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade, and repeatedly criticized it.
In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Trump.
“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it.
“The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”
Trump has predicted he will be accused of being too soft on Putin no matter how the summit goes.
“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia…I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted on Sunday