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Hawk lands in Moscow: Trump-Putin meeting & more in store for Bolton’s Russian visit, say analysts

US-Russia relations are at their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War. Will arch-hawk John Bolton, who came to Moscow, pave the way for Trump-Putin talks and help heal bilateral ties? In a sense, yes, analysts say.

Did he come to set up a Trump-Putin meeting?

US National Security Advisor John Bolton has arrived in Moscow on Wednesday afternoon amid speculation that he could lay the groundwork for a much-anticipated one-on-one between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Though an official announcement of the summit has not yet been made, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told MSNBC: “I think it’s likely President Trump will be meeting with his counterpart in the not too distant future following that meeting [Bolton’s visit].” 

Asked if Trump will visit Russia in the summer, Pompeo said he was not aware of the president’s schedule. Meanwhile, Moscow continues to maintain silence on the issue. “We’re not ready yet to speak of any deadlines,” Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Kremlin, told Russian media.

READ MORE: Russia can teach US how to better host World Cup – Putin to Bolton

During the trip, Bolton met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Russian capital on Wednesday. TASS news agency earlier reported that the pair were to “hold consultations about the potential meeting between the American and Russian presidents.”

Paving the way for a Putin-Trump summit is the top goal on Bolton’s to-do list while in Moscow, said Konstantin Blokhin, an expert at Russia’s Center for Security Studies. Blokhin suggested the politician has also come to talk about disarmament and non-proliferation, Syria, and Iran.

Why Bolton?

Bolton, an arch-hawk in Trump’s administration, isn’t probably the best choice available to reach out to the Russians. He previously accused Putin of looking Trump “in the eyes and lying to him, denying Russian interference in the election,” and said he feels Russia is siding with a new “axis of evil” that includes Iran and North Korea.

Nevertheless, Russian experts believe Bolton’s standing provides an interesting opening for Moscow. The fact that the US side is represented by a hardliner means a lot for the success of the visit, Kirill Koktysh, a research fellow at Russia’s MGIMO University, told RT. He said such politicians are prone to “calculated compromise and measured stance during very tough talks on national security issues.”

“Bolton obviously influences Trump and his policies very much,” the expert added. “They are apparently like-minded people and Bolton can persuade Trump to do a wide variety of things.”

Bolton “is not anti-Russian, he is a hawk who aggressively advances American interests,” commented Evgeny Minchenko, head of the Moscow-based International Institute for Political Expertise, told RT. 

The hawkish national security advisor “is on [the White House’s] payroll,” which means he will carefully follow Trump’s policy and not his own line, Minchenko said, disagreeing with Koktysh. “This is where [Steve] Bannon failed, this is where other administration officials failed,” the expert noted, adding: “Either Bolton does what Trump tells him to do, or he steps down just like his predecessors.”

What to expect?

“Bolton’s visit may partially be regarded a success [for US-Russia ties],” Blokhin suggested, because two nuclear powers engaging in dialogue is a positive sign. “Yes, he’s Russia critic, he’s a hawk, he’s a neocon, but the Korean crisis showed his influence on Trump is not that big,” he noted.

Trump and Putin have already met twice on the sidelines of multilateral summits and they have spoken on the phone on a number of occasions. Most recently, Trump telephoned Putin to congratulate him in March on the Russian president's landslide re-election, promising that the two would meet soon.

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