(BBG) U.S. President Donald Trump declined to brand his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin as friend or foe ahead of the first full-fledged one-on-one summit between the two in Helsinki next week.
“I really can’t say right now. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a competitor,” Trump told reporters as he departed the White House for a European tour that will also include potentially tense meetings with leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his first visit to the U.K. as president.
Amid criticism that the president has been harsher toward the U.S.’s NATO allies than toward the Kremlin — even in the face of evidence of attempted Russian election meddling — Trump defended his stance toward Moscow.
“I think that getting along with Russia, getting along with China, and getting along with others is a good thing,” he said Tuesday. “It’s not a bad thing.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday he has heavy reservations about Trump’s meeting with Putin.
“When the president met with President Xi, when the president met with Kim Jong Un, they took him to the cleaners, it seems, and got what they wanted and we didn’t get much of what we wanted,” Schumer told reporters at the Capitol. “It’s even worse for him to meet with a very, very clever out-for-himself man like President Putin alone. And I am very much afraid what he would give away without any advisers to keep him in check.”
Also on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 10 senators introduced a resolution condemning the Russian annexation and continued occupation of Crimea, and stating that U.S. policy should remain that Crimea is part of Ukraine. The lead sponsors of the resolution are Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Democrat Bob Menendez of New Jersey.
Trump told the assembled journalists that meeting with Putin may be the “easiest” leg of his trip and reiterated his demand that NATO countries shoulder a larger share of the alliance’s budget.
He also observed that the U.K. — and its embattled Prime Minister Theresa May — was in “somewhat turmoil” and was noticeably less effusive about May than he was about Boris Johnson, who resigned Monday over opposition to May’s plans to leave the European Union.