- President Donald Trump said in a news conference Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not “an enemy” but a “competitor,” and that he hoped the two of them could become friends.
- Trump made the remarks upon leaving a tense NATO summit in Brussels where he accused Germany of being “controlled” by Russia.
- Trump and Putin are set to hold a bilateral summit in Finland on July 16.
In a freewheeling impromptu news conference from the NATO summit in Brussels on Thursday, President Donald Trump said Russian President Vladimir Putin was his competitor rather than his enemy, and that he hoped the two world leaders could one day be friends.
Trump and Putin are set to hold a highly anticipated bilateral summit in Finland on July 16.
“He’s been very nice to me the times I’ve met him, I’ve been nice to him. He’s a competitor. Somebody was saying, ‘Is he an enemy?’ No, he’s not my enemy. Is he a friend? No, I don’t know him well enough. But the couple of times that I’ve gotten to meet him, we got along well… I hope we get along well,” Trump said.
“It’s not a question of friend or enemy. He’s not my enemy. And hopefully some day maybe he’ll be a friend. It could happen. But I just don’t know him very well. I met him a couple of times,” he added.
Trump and Putin have met twice before in 2017, first at G20 summit in July, and then later at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Vietnam.
As the 2018 midterms approach, Russian election interference will be an important topic of conversation at their meeting, Trump said. Previously, he has avoided laying the blame for election meddling at Putin’s feet, either denying it or blaming his predecessor President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop it.
“What am I going to do? He may deny it,” Trump told reporters. “All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it. You’ll be the first to know.”
Trump has raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers at international summits in recent months, during which some perceive him to have defended Russia at the expense of European allies.
At Wednesday’s NATO summit, Trump accused Germany of being “totally controlled” by Russia because they get some of their oil from Russia via a pipeline, and harped on NATO allies for contributing, in his view, too little to defense and NATO’s budget.
And at the G7 summit in June, Trump reportedly told world leaders that Crimea, the contested territory that Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014, was rightfully part of Russia because most Crimeans speak Russian as their first language.