Donald Trump will meet Vladimir Putin amid fraying Western alliances and developments in the investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election.
The meeting has already been condemned by members of Congress from both parties after the US indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Mr Trump’s presidential campaign.
But the US president is undeterred and is set to meet face-to-face with Mr Putin.
Mr Trump, who has been trying to lower expectations about what the meeting will achieve, told reporters during a breakfast with Finland’s president that he thought the summit would go “fine”.
The meeting comes amid speculation about whether Mr Trump will rebuke his Russian counterpart for the election meddling that prompted a special counsel probe that he has repeatedly labelled a witch hunt.
Mr Trump continued to undermine the investigation in a series of tweets from Helsinki before the meeting, blaming it for fraying US-Russian relations.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse,” he wrote, blaming “many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”
He also continued to blame his predecessor, Barack Obama, for failing to stop Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election in his favour, claiming that when Mr Obama “was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it”.
The Obama administration did take action, including confronting Mr Putin in person as well as expelling nearly three dozen Russian diplomats the US said were actually intelligence operatives and imposing new sanctions.
While Mr Trump was eager for a made-for-TV spectacle that will dominate headlines like his sit-down with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month, the Kremlin’s primary mission was simply to have the summit happen.
Mr Putin hopes the meeting, which comes hours after he presided over the World Cup final, will help him forge good personal ties with Mr Trump and focus on areas where Moscow and Washington may be able to find common ground, such as Syria.
The two leaders first meet one-on-one in the Finnish presidential palace’s opulent Gothic Hall, then continue their discussions with an expanded group of aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor’s throne room. The leaders will then take questions at a press conference.
Mr Putin is not likely to be aiming for official recognition of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea or easing of the crippling US sanctions, aware that Congress would never allow such action.
But he would welcome a symbolic end to Western protests over Crimea and Moscow’s attempts to destabilise elections and traditional Western alliances and norms.
Mr Trump unleashed his own attacks on those institutions before arriving in Finland.
In an interview with US TV network CBS, Mr Trump described the European Union as a “foe”.
The attack followed Mr Trump’s appearance at a Nato summit in Brussels, where he criticised traditional allies over “delinquent” defence spending only to later confirm his commitment to the military alliance.
“Nato is now strong & rich!” Mr Trump tweeted on Monday morning. During his breakfast, he said Nato had “never been more together” and said the summit had been “a little bit tough at the beginning, but it turned out to be love”.