At the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, President Trump and Vladimir Putin met for the first time on Friday morning. During a highly anticipated meeting that followed months of speculation about their relationship, Trump and Putin shook hands — and journalists caught the handshake on camera. Trump was subsequently seen patting Putin on the back in what appeared to be a friendly gesture.
According to BBC News' Steve Rosenberg, a spokesman for the Kremlin said that Trump and Putin had shaken hands and promised to "see each other soon" at their bilateral meeting — rather than having an informal "pull-aside" meeting like Barack Obama and Putin did at last year's G20, the White House and the Kremlin have scheduled an official bilateral. Consequently, it was the first such meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents since September 2015, when Obama officially met with Putin at the United Nations.
Trump and Putin's meeting has been met with a significant degree of anticipation due to tense relations between their countries. There are still ongoing investigations into possible Russian interference in the American presidential election, as well as into the Trump campaign's alleged ties to Russia.
In fact, it was only recently that Trump began to concede that Russia had likely interfered in the election, but he does not appear to be fully convinced. Nonetheless, he delivered a speech in Poland on Thursday in which he pledged to take a tougher stance against Russia to assuage Polish concerns about Russia's "destabilizing activities" in Ukraine. Trump also called on Russia to end its support for the Syrian and Iranian governments, making it the toughest stance he has taken on Russia since assuming the presidency.
Although their meeting on Friday afternoon reportedly did not have a fixed agenda, Trump and Putin were expected to discuss a variety of contentious subjects, including the situation in Syria and Russia's actions in Ukraine. However, many people paid close attention to this meeting to see if Trump addressed Russia's interference in the U.S. elections, as it is a subject he has been reluctant to broach.
As the two presidents approached this meeting, Trump's critics were concerned that the unstructured nature of the meeting — coupled with his administration's lack of a clearly defined policy on Russia — could give Putin the upper hand. Analysts also pointed out that if Trump followed his inclination to work closely and improve relationships with Russia despite Russian transgressions, it would make this meeting a diplomatic win for Putin.
On Thursday evening, Axios reported that Trump and Putin's meeting will likely only be open to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and translators.
The handshake between the two men seemed to indicate that they are friendly toward each other. What happened at the bilateral meeting, however, will likely have a much more significant impact on global affairs.