President Donald Trump began the day of his high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin by tweeting about 'Crooked Hillary' Clinton and the 'Rigged Witch Hunt' – and claiming President Obama thought Russian meddling was 'no big deal.'
But after stirring up yet another confrontation on the eve of a major diplomatic encounter, Trump reassured the world at the top of a breakfast with the Finnish president: 'We'll do just fine.' He added, after raising doubts about the cohesion of the U.S. military alliance set up to counter the old Soviet Union: 'NATO has never been more together.'
Facing criticism that he won't bring sufficient pressure on on Putin – who the U.S. accuses of overseeing a range of 'malign' activities – the president went after his domestic political opponents and U.S. investigators on Twitter. Hours later he is to meet one-on-one with Putin in a meeting that is scheduled to last for 90-minutes.
'Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!' Trump wrote.
Trump and Putin will then jointly address the press, in a summit meeting some observers are already calling a victory for Putin, who is looking to end Russian isolation following the 2014 annexation of Crimea.
'President Obama thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn't happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it,' Trump wrote from Helsinki, where the summit is taking place Monday.
'When I won it became a big deal and the Rigged Witch Hunt headed by Strzok!' he said, referencing the FBI lawyer who got grilled in Congress this week.
Russia is 'ready' to discuss the topic of election meddling, RIA news agency reported, according to Reuters.
'We are ready to discuss, ready to undertake mutual obligations of non-intervention into internal matters,' the news agency quoted a Russian source as saying.
Trump in another tweet returned to the issue of NATO, having berated Germany and other allies for not spending enough on defense. Trump proclaimed it a 'truly great Summit' – even as it put allied divisions on display.
'Received many calls from leaders of NATO countries thanking me for helping to bring them together and to get them focused on financial obligations, both present & future. We had a truly great Summit that was inaccurately covered by much of the media. NATO is now strong & rich!' Trump wrote.
The tweet came hours after a Sunday evening missive where he referred to the European Union as a 'foe.'
It was unclear what 'foolishness' in U.S. policy Trump was referring to, or whether the statement indicated he would put new policy proposals on the table in Helsinki. Trump said repeatedly during the presidential campaign it would be better if the U.S. could 'get along' with Russia.
First up for Trump Monday and first lady Melania Trump is an official greeting with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and First Lady Jenni Haukio and a breakfast meeting.
Trump landed in Helsinki for his high-stakes summit with Putin Sunday after ranting that no set of concessions – no matter how large the consequences – would be good enough for media critics he branded the 'enemy of the people.'
'Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia,' he said, 'over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn't good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!'
Trump sent out the missive focusing about how his actions would be perceived in the press after indicating in an interview that he had low expectations for the summit and failing to articulate in an interview what his goal was. Earlier, he had attacked the European Union as a 'foe' in a broadcast interview that aired Sunday.
If he was planning to drive a hard bargain with Putin, a former KGB colonel with a grip on power in Moscow, he didn't show it. Asked in a broadcast interview about his goal for the summit, Trump replied: ''I'll let you know after the meeting.'
As he arrived in the Finnish capital, Trump waived to onlookers and slowly descended the stairs of Air Force One. He was accompanied by First Lady Melania Trump, who wore dark sunglasses and a long jacket for a historic summit that will put the president alone in the same room with the man accused of ordering a hacking campaign that targeted Democrats in the 2016 presidential election.
Putin will arrive basking in the glow of a successful world cup tournament that France won in a match Sunday evening local time while Trump was in the air. Trump congratulated Putin on the tournament in the same tweet where he celebrated the victorious French team.
Both Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron were on hand in the pouring rain to shake hands of the winning French teammates in St. Petersburg.
Trump sent out the pre-spin amid fears from his political rivals that he would give ground to Putin, a strategic adversary to U.S. policy goals, having been criticized since the campaign for his refusal to criticize Putin.
Among critics mostly on the left, Putin is sometimes described as Trump's 'handler,' and since Friday's indictments Trump has variously been described as an 'asset' or even an agent for Putin.
The president didn't do much to dissuade his rivals by piling on criticism of European allies.
'Well I think we have a lot of foes. I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade,' Trump volunteered to CBS when asked about his goal for the summit. 'Now you wouldn't think of the European Union but they're a foe,' Trump said.
Trump is meeting with a man he calls a 'competitor' but not an 'enemy.'
'He's been very nice to me the times I've met him. I've been nice to him. He's a competitor,' Trump said of Putin last at the NATO summit where he went after Germany. 'You know, 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,' Trump said.
He has said he will raise the issue of election meddling – but also said he won't be 'Perry Mason' and try to extract a confession from Putin.
Trump's national security advisor, John Bolton, who is traveling with the president, said there were classified activities that he is not at liberty to talk about to deter interference in the elections going forward.
'I think it's very clear the president's determined that we're not going to have any outsider interfere with the integrity of our electoral process,' Bolton told ABC's 'This Week.'
On Air Force One, the president wrote in tweets that the media is nonetheless setting him up to fail, saying that 'much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people' in a bombastic message that followed a gripe about North Korea shortly before that had ended with him calling the press 'fake news.'
Trump said all that Democrats 'know how to do is resist and obstruct! This is why there is such hatred and dissension in our country – but at some point, it will heal!'
The president only had kind words for Putin, saying he was 'looking forward to meeting' with him in one tweet, and asserting that the Russian leader had put 'on a truly great World Cup Tournament' in another.
Unlike his Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, where the president at least pushed for a denuclearization deal as he claimed that the meeting itself was an accomplishment, Trump has been hesitant to set any expectations for Helsinki at all.
'I go in with low expectations,' the president told CBS News. 'I'm not going with high expectations.'
When CBS News asked him about his goals for his the meeting with Putin, Trump responded: 'I'll let you know after the meeting' and promised 'nothing bad' will come out of it.
Trump could promise to ease sanctions or cut U.S. military operations in Europe without consulting the State Department or the Pentagon. Moscow is under U.S. and international sanctions for its seizure of Crimea in 2014.
The president made a similar move in his meeting with Kim, where he announced the U.S. would cease a joint military exercise with South Korea - a major concession to Pyongyang and a surprise to the Pentagon and U.S. allies.
Trump said Thursday if he could consider ending U.S. military exercises in the Baltic states. '
'Perhaps we'll talk about that,' he said.
Huntsman said Sunday that he doesn't expect any changes to the United States' position on Crimea.
On Sunday on NBC, Huntsman insisted the meeting is not a summit, however.
Huntsman categorized it as a 'meeting' and claimed that the 'summit' characterization is wrong, even though he had also used the term.
On an on-the-record call with reporters in advance of Trump's trip to Europe, he'd said: 'I harken back to some summits that I've done before, all the way back to Ronald Reagan where I helped to prepare Reagan's first trip to China and Barack Obama's trip to China in 2009. And what is important in all these cases is dialogue. And this can take many forms. But what is important here is that we start a discussion.
'We've had discussions on the margins of meetings -- Hamburg, G20, the APEC meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, but this really is the first opportunity for a sit-down and to begin that very important dialogue, much the way we saw President Reagan do it with Mikhail Gorbachev, or Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev,' he said.
Helsinki has been the site of other historic summits between the United States and Russia.
In 1975, 35 nations met there in an attempt to improve relations between the Communists and the West, signing The Helsinki Accords.
In March 1997, then-President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin met in Helsinki on security and economic issues.
President Trump is approaching his Putin meeting with his typical confidence that his personality and instincts will give him the edge.
Trump said that history of negotiations helped him get a read on Kim after he met the North Korean leader in Singapore. He told DailyMail.com in the Oval Office, that he'd been 'preparing' all his live and didn't need additional briefings.
The president prides himself on his ability to read people and often breaches diplomatic protocol in favor of one-on-one conversations.
In July of last year, when Trump met with Putin at the G20 gathering, the meeting between the two men that was originally scheduled for 30 minutes went well over the two-hour mark. It ran so long that first lady Melania Trump was sent in to try and end it, although she failed in her attempt.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.