Analysis. The presidents of the US and Russia are expected to discuss Ukraine, Syria and possibly even Edward Snowden, though Putin’s spokesman says that’s ‘out of the question.’

Moscow blames Democratic ‘saboteurs’ ahead of crucial meeting

Tension was running high in Moscow on Saturday. Immediately after the indictment in the US of the 12 Russian agents accused of interfering in the 2016 elections, the Russian Foreign Ministry immediately came out with a statement rejecting the so-called “mud-slinging” and accusing the US Democrats of revving up their attacks against Russia within hours of the summit in Helsinki, only to “spoil the atmosphere before the Russian-American summit.”

It was a harsh statement, in which, for the first time since Trump took office, the Russians openly accused certain politicians of sabotaging a the newest iteration of a “reset” in the relationship between Moscow and Washington, something that has already been tried unsuccessfully at the beginning of Obama’s presidency.

Vladimir Putin, after hearing immediately from the staff of the US President that today’s meeting in Helsinki was still confirmed, seemed to want to minimize the importance of this new obstacle to the talks, but it is clear now that part of the summit will have to contend with Russiagate.

The siloviki, the powerful hardliners pulling the strings at the Kremlin, grouped around Igor Secin, the president of Rosneft, and Sergey Glazyev, Putin’s adviser on geopolitical issues, have always been opposed to any compromise with the United States and, according to the Vedomosti newspaper in Moscow, have been clamoring for Putin to flex his muscles and not cede any ground on the issue of the Donbass, which they would like to see as a part of the Russian Federation someday.

Putin, for his part, sent his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, to the studios of RT (the Russian TV propaganda channel directed mainly at the American public) to record a long interview, just hours before the summit. Peskov said that the Russians expect that there will be at least “some rudiment of a political will” to achieve a normalization of relations between the two countries. At the summit, he said, “positions will be compared and there will be clarifications to confirm or dispel any fears.”

Putin, however, wants to draw some red lines for today’s confrontation: the Kremlin hopes the US president will stop repeating the “mantra” of “continually saying ‘Until Russia gives Crimea back there will be no this or that,’” which is “absolutely illogical,” Peskov said.

But it is unlikely that Trump will push for returning the peninsula under the control of Kiev at the summit. Such a demand would be “a road to nowhere. It has no perspective and nothing will come of it,” Peskov said.

However, the notion that there may be an exchange between Trump and Putin on the Ukrainian issue is something that is still being spoken about in Russia. According to the Novaya Gazeta, the summit might lead to a new “secret protocol” in the style of the one signed in 1939 by Germany and the USSR, but with new participants and novel provisions.

“The US is planning to significantly increase the pressure on Iran, and not only economically. Moscow might denounce the pressure against Tehran only formally, if Washington would be amenable in turn to forcing Kiev to implement the Minsk agreements,” wrote the Moscow newspaper.

And not only that—in Syria, the summit might lead to an acceleration of the withdrawal of US troops, something Trump has wanted for some time now, but only if Putin gives assurance that this will not lead to an expansion of Iranian influence. To consider fully the possibilities in play, one should also consider the statements made on Thursday by the adviser of the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ali Akbar Velayati, after meeting with Putin at the presidential residence of Novo-Ogaryovo, just outside Moscow.

Velayati said that “Russia is ready to invest $50 billion in Iran’s oil and gas sectors.” According to the Iranian politician, the investments by Russia in Iranian oil and gas “can compensate for those companies”—including European ones—“that have left Iran (amid U.S. sanctions fear).”

In other news, Peskov made it clear in his interview with RT that Putin is not even considering the rumored possibility of defusing the pressure created by the resurgent Russiagate investigation by handing over Edward Snowden, the former NSA employee, to the CIA: “No, this is out of the question.”

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