President Donald Trump arrived in Finland on Sunday for a closely watched one-on-one summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, hours after telling an interviewer that he was going into the meeting today with "low expectations".
The leaders were seen surveying the view from a small balcony before sitting down for breakfast. -Soviet and U.S. -Russian summits due to its geographic location and perceived neutrality. On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers over alleged crimes tied to Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016.
Russia's largely Kremlin-friendly TV networks, websites and newspapers portrayed Trump as a political maverick who is being unfairly targeted by his own compatriots.
Standing alongside the Kremlin boss at a joint news conference, Trump acknowledged that his intelligence chiefs believe Russian Federation hacked and leaked Democrats' emails containing politically damaging information about his rival Hillary Clinton in 2016.
They were then joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Advisor John Bolton and Chief of Staff John Kelly and their Russian counterparts for further discussions.
The president opened his first meeting with Putin - it lasted more than two hours last July in Hamburg, Germany - by pressing Putin on Russian election meddling and Putin denied being involved, according to US officials who described the meeting afterward.
The crowd repeated a refrain heard at many anti-Trump protests including one that drew tens of thousands to London as the president visited Britain last week: "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist U.S.!" The indictments formed part of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller that Trump has denounced as a "witch hunt" created to undermine the legitimacy of his surprise win over Hillary Clinton. In response, he has blamed President Obama for allowing Putin to annex Crimea from Ukraine during his administration in 2014.
He says Obama "thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election", so he did "NOTHING" about it when informed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Human Rights Campaign placed banners on Finland's Presidential Palace on Sunday which target Putin for the treatment of Chechnya's LGBTQ population, and Greenpeace placed two banners atop the city's Kallio church calling on both leaders to "Warm Our Hearts, Not Our Planet".
The Helsinki summit is the capstone to a almost week-long trip for Trump during which he has sown doubts about his commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation military alliance, Washington's so-called special relationship with Britain, and US relations with the European Union that he called "a foe" in trade terms. Meanwhile, the youth wing of the country's anti-immigration party, The Finns, managed to get about 50 people to hold a pro-Trump rally.
A trade war is also under way with China after the United States implemented tariffs for what it calls unfair trade practices by Beijing.
Trump, who will meet Monday with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, has not been so tough on the Russian president.
The EU Co-President Donald Tusk seemed to disagree with Trump, calling his statement "fake news".
The Kremlin has played down expectations for the summit.
But for Trump, whose White House victory was actively supported by 12 Russian military intelligence agents, according to a recent USA indictment, and whose entourage is still being investigated for possible collusion with Moscow, the meeting is freighted with domestic political risk.
Undeterred, the American president is set to go face-to-face with Putin, the authoritarian leader for whom he has expressed admiration.