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The Kremlin Dictates the Trump-Putin Relationship

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Asked whether he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election, Putin replied: “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

A scene depicted by one of the Kremlin pool reporters, Andrei Kolesnikov, illustrated the Russians’ perception that U.S. officials were at a severe disadvantage in Finland. “Finns were playing on our side,” Kolesnikov wrote in Russia’s Kommersant newspaper. “Americans did not feel themselves to be the masters of that place. When a Finnish official asked the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to move to the door, Mr. Pompeo looked at him in frustration, with quickly growing hostility,” Kolesnikov wrote. “But that person insisted, and Pompeo finally obeyed.”

Aleksei Venediktov, editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, told The Atlantic that Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, was “ruling the press conference as if it were Putin’s event.” Kolesnikov told The Atlantic: “Dmitry Peskov was bringing the most powerful artillery to the battle”—and Moscow celebrated its triumph. A veteran nationalist politician, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, known as “Russia’s Trump,” at the time called the summit “a great joy”—but said that the translators should have been “executed … Otherwise how can you exclude the possibility of a leak?” he asked.

As confusion and outrage set in, the Russians announced that the pair had reached “important agreements”—fueling speculation that Trump was somehow compromised. “I’ve seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people over my professional career,” GOP Representative Will Hurd, a former CIA official, said after the press conference. “I never would have thought that the US President would” be one of them.

Administration officials have still not been able to get a reliable readout of the Helsinki meeting. And they might have a new incident to worry about: Months after the Helsinki summit, at the G20 summit in Argentina, Trump again met with Putin for about 15 minutes without any U.S. translators or officials present. The White House acknowledged that the meeting occurred, but wouldn’t provide details about their conversation.

Steve Hall, the former head of Russian operations for the CIA in Moscow, says the one-on-one meetings put Putin, a former KGB spy, in a unique position to influence Trump. “There are no Americans in the room to act as a break if Trump is being pushed in the wrong direction,” Hall says. “Putin is not only former KGB, but he’s also spent scores of years dealing with foreign leaders and knows how to manipulate them.”

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