Trump, Putin meeting planned

NEW YORK — When President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet this week on the sidelines of an international summit in Japan, it will mark a new chapter in a much scrutinized relationship that crackles with questions and contradictions. Even as Trump places a premium on establishing close personal ties with Putin, his government has increased sanctions and other pressures on Moscow.

The agenda remains a mystery, as still does the outcome of their last meeting, nearly a year ago in Finland.

“The whole world was watching in Helsinki when President Trump sided with Putin over his own intelligence community and we still, all this time later, don’t know what they discussed in their private meeting,” said Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. “And now, I suspect, they will bond over the end of the Mueller probe and push the narrative, individually and together, that there was nothing there. It will feel like a vindication to them both.”

The Group of 20 summit in Osaka will be the leaders’ first meeting since special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation with no finding that the Trump campaign in 2016 conspired with Russia. That question long had shadowed Trump’s presidency.

Putin has denied that Russia meddled in the American election to help Trump win, even though Mueller uncovered extensive evidence to the contrary. That included a Russian military intelligence operation to break into Democratic Party emails and efforts by a “troll farm” to spread divisive rhetoric and undermine the U.S. political system by using phony social media accounts.