Why Trump's Reported Invite To Putin Shouldn't Be That Surprising

by Lani Seelinger
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The revelation that President Trump had invited the recently re-elected Russian president Vladimir Putin for a White House visit made waves, as though it was the first time anyone had ever made such a suggestion. In fact, Putin has been to the United States several times — but if this visit takes place, it would be his first during Trump's administration.

Putin's first visit to the U.S. was in November of 2001, when he made a state visit to the White House to meet with then-president George W. Bush. This was a high point in U.S.-Russia relations because of Russia's supportive reaction after the September 11 attacks, and Bush even took Putin to his Texas ranch. Putin also came to New York in 2003, when he visited the New York Stock Exchange and took part in the 2003 U.N. General Assembly meeting.

He and Bush saw each other again in 2004 at a G8 summit held in Georgia, and Putin returned to the U.S. for another U.N. General Assembly gathering in 2005. Putin's last visit during the Bush administration was in 2007, when Bush invited Putin for a visit to his family home in Maine. This was at a time when U.S.-Russia relations were deteriorating, however, because the U.S. had devised plans to build a missile defense system in Central and Eastern Europe — which Russia has taken issue with from the very beginning.

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The optimism surrounding U.S.-Russia relations that began in Bush's presidency had dissipated by the end of it, and so Obama pledged to "reset" relations with Putin's successor, Dmitri Medvedev (you might remember Hillary Clinton's much-mocked "reset button," which she, as Secretary of State, gifted to her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov). The proposed reset didn't have much of an effect, though, and after Putin stepped back into the Russian presidency in 2012, he and Obama never developed much of a friendly relationship.

Putin only visited the U.S. once during Obama's term, and even that was an appearance at the U.N. General Assembly in 2015 rather than a state visit to the White House. Photos of Putin and Obama at that meeting seem to reveal a certain level of chilled awkwardness between the two, rather than the warmth that he and Bush displayed towards each other early in Bush's term.

Putin and Obama did meet several times at other events, although not on U.S. soil; the last of these meetings was in China in 2016, after which Obama described the meeting as "candid, blunt and businesslike."

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The last time Putin was in the U.S. was in 2015, though Trump has flirted with the idea of extending an invitation to the Russian president for a while now. According to a transcript released by Politico from July of 2017, Trump said that he would grant Putin that invitation at the right time.

“I don’t think this is the right time, but the answer is, Yes, I would. Look, it’s very easy for me to say, ‘Absolutely, I won’t,'" Trump said, according to Politico. "That’s the easy thing for me to do, but that’s the stupid thing to do. Let’s be the smart people, not the stupid people."

Putin, for his part, seems to be open to the idea. Reuters reported as early as December of 2016 that Putin said that he was open to accepting an invitation from the incoming president. Now, the Washington Post has reported that Trump has indeed extended that invitation — but it only trickled into the American media after an announcement from a Kremlin report about Trump's call with Putin on March 20.

While there's been no word on when exactly this meeting would take place, any meeting in the near future would happen with a backdrop of negativity between the two countries, after Russia's alleged poisoning of a former spy on British soil and the expulsion of each other's diplomats that has followed. If Trump proposes a reset, perhaps this time it will go better than the last time.