President Donald Trump named the European Union a top adversary of the United States and denounced the news media as the “enemy of the people” before arriving in Helsinki on Sunday on the eve of his high-stakes summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Trump and his top aides were downplaying expectations for today’s summit as Trump continued to rattle allies by lumping in the EU with Russia and China after barnstorming across Europe, causing chaos at the recent NATO summit and in a trip to the United Kingdom.
Trump spent the weekend in Scotland at his resort in Turnberry, golfing, tweeting and granting an interview to CBS News in which he named the EU, a bloc of nations that includes many of America’s closest allies, at the top of his list of biggest global foes.
“I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,” Trump said, adding that “you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”
He said that Russia is a foe “in certain respects” and that China is a foe “economically ... but that doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean anything. It means that they are competitive.”
Trump has been reluctant to criticize Putin over the years and has described him in recent days not as an enemy but as a competitor.
On Sunday, Trump flew to Finland, the final stop on a weeklong trip that began last Tuesday. Near Trump’s hotel, police roped off a group of about 60 mostly male pro-Trump demonstrators waving American flags. Big banners said “Welcome Trump” and “God Bless D & M Trump” and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Chants of “We love Trump, We love Trump” broke out as the president’s motorcade passed, and Trump waved.
Trump set expectations for the summit low, telling CBS News, “I don’t expect anything. ... I go in with very low expectations.” His national security adviser said they weren’t looking for any “concrete deliverables.”
He also said in the interview taped Saturday that he “hadn’t thought” about asking Putin to extradite the dozen Russian military intelligence officers indicted this past week in Washington on charges related to the hacking of Democratic targets in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
But after being given the idea by his interviewer, Trump said, “Certainly I’ll be asking about it.”
The U.S. has no extradition treaty with Moscow and can’t compel Russia to hand over citizens. Russia’s constitution prohibits extraditing its citizens to foreign countries.
Contradicting Trump in an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton said the idea of asking Putin to turn over the 12 military intelligence officials was “pretty silly” and argued that doing so would put the U.S. president in a “weak position.”
He also argued that Trump is entering the summit with a stronger hand because of the indictments.
“I think the president can put this on the table and say, ‘This is a serious matter that we need to talk about,”’ said Bolton, adding that asking for the indicted Russians to be turned over would have the opposite effect.
In the CBS News interview, Trump declined to discuss his goals for the summit – “I’ll let you know after the meeting,” he said – but said he believes such sessions are beneficial.
He cited his historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June as a “good thing,” along with meetings he’s had with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“Nothing bad is going to come out of” the Helsinki meeting, he said, “and maybe some good will come out.”
From aboard Air Force One, Trump complained in tweets that he wasn’t getting enough credit for his meeting with Kim and railed that “Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people” as he headed to sit down with Putin.
Putin is regarded as creating a culture of violence and impunity that has resulted in the killing of some Russian journalists. Trump regularly criticizes American news media outlets and has called out some journalists by name.
Trump complained: “No matter how well I do at the Summit,” he’ll face “criticism that it wasn’t good enough.”
“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted.
Trump also praised Putin for holding the World Cup, which finished up Sunday.
Trump and Putin have held talks several times before. Their first meeting came last July when both participated in an international summit and continued for more than two hours, well over the scheduled 30 minutes. The leaders also met last fall during a separate summit in Vietnam.
But Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, said today’s meeting “is really the first time for both presidents to actually sit across the table and have a conversation, and I hope it’s a detailed conversation about where we might be able to find some overlapping and shared interests.”
Congressional Democrats and at least one Republican have called on Trump to pull out of today’s meeting unless he is willing to make Russian election meddling the top issue. Huntsman said the summit must go on because Russian engagement is needed to solve some international issues.
“The collective blood pressure between the United States and Russia is off-the-charts high so it’s a good thing these presidents are getting together,” he said during an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Trump has said he will raise the issue of Russian election meddling, along with Syria, Ukraine, nuclear proliferation and other topics. Bolton described the meeting as “unstructured” and said: “We’re not looking for concrete deliverables here.”