A senior aide to Donald Trump is in Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has said, amid reports the two sides are preparing for a July summit between the two presidents.
The US national security adviser, John Bolton, arrived in the Russian capital on Wednesday for a one-day visit that will also include meetings with the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the presidential adviser Yuri Ushakov.
Russia has said it is open to a summit between Putin and Trump, and it has been reported that White House and Kremlin officials have met in recent months to make preparations. Vienna and Helsinki have been suggested as potential venues for the meeting.
A Kremlin spokesman confirmed that Putin would meet Bolton, a foreign policy hawk and proponent of tougher measures against rivals such as Iran, North Korea, and Russia.
“The president will really receive Bolton in the Kremlin, and a conversation will take place,” Dmitri Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters on Wednesday.
Peskov declined to say whether the conversation would touch on a possible summit. He said Bolton would also meet members of the Russian national security council, and that most of his contacts would go through Ushakov, whose portfolio includes US policy.
A Russian foreign ministry official posted a photograph of Bolton and the US embassy’s deputy chief of mission, Anthony Godfrey, meeting Lavrov.
The two sides have been at odds over issues including Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US elections, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, cybersecurity, Nato policy and nuclear weapons. Relations between the two countries are widely seen as being at their worst since the cold war.
Bolton has previously called for a tougher US stance against Iran, North Korea and Russia. But Trump has charted a course more favourable to Putin, defying a US foreign policy establishment that has widely condemned Russia for allegedly hacking US political parties and spreading disinformation during the 2016 presidential elections.
Russia and the US have closed consulates and have expelled hundreds of diplomats in tit-for-tat actions during the diplomatic fallout.
Trump and Putin met twice at a G20 meeting Hamburg last year, and had a discussion over dinner with only a Russian translator also present. Trump said the leaders discussed adoption policy.
Expectations for any summit between Putin and Trump are modest, especially as meaningful sanctions relief for Russia would require the consent of the US Congress.