Russias president may use Fridays session in Hamburg to get the measure of his US counterpart and consider possibilities for finding common ground

When George W Bush first gratified Vladimir Putin in 2001, the frosty encounter unexpectedly warmed up after the two bonded over the story of a silver cross that Putins mother “ve been given” him. Bush declared that he had looked the man in the eye and got a sense of his soul.

Russia is hoping for a similar personal breakthrough when Donald Trump satisfies Putin for the first time as world leaders at the G20 summit in Hamburg on Friday. Relations between the US and Russia are now riven by even more political changes than in 2001, but the two leaders kind words for one another in the past suggest the possibility of developing a rapport.

This is the first meeting, the first acquaintance of the two presidents. This is the main thing for this meeting, Putins spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Wednesday.

In a similar vein, the nation television spin doctor Dmitry Kiselyov whose criticisms of the US are matched only by his appreciation of Trump proclaimed on his Sunday night show that the most Russia can hope for from the meeting is that they get to know one another and agree to meet again.

According to the analyst Fyodor Lukyanov, political battles over Russia-related issues in Washington are likely to make significant agreements impossible, but the meeting will give Putin a chance to take the measure of his US counterpart.

He can get a personal impression and try to understand whether something will change in the future, he said. According to Lukyanov, the Kremlin is mystified by Trump because its not clear what his priorities are nor whether he can work with Congress to achieve them.

Trump on Putin; Putin on Trump

For Moscow, the biggest stumbling block in the relations with Washington are the sanctions first imposed over Russias intervention in Ukraine, and expanded last month as penalty for its meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

But the Kremlin has said in the past it would wait for Washington to cancel them of its own accord rather than lobby for their removal and with the US Congress determined to keep up pressure on Russia as long as the conflict in Ukraine drags on, little progress is likely to be made on this issue in Hamburg.

According to the Russian foreign ministry, the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria will be on the agenda for Putin and Trumps sit-down, but any tries at cooperation in these countries will surely be fraught.

The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, lobbied against extending sanctions, telling Congress that the United States shouldnt be handcuffed to the Minsk agreements Russia is accused of failing to meet.

But the Senates 97 -2 vote last month to approve new sanctions torpedoed Moscows hopes of a softer posture on Ukraine, where it has backed pro-Russian separatists.

Possibilities for US-Russian cooperation in Syria have also dimmed after the Khan Sheikhun chemical weapons assault and Trumps ensuing cruise missile ten-strikes on Russias ally Bashar al-Assad.

Instead of focusing on such hot-button issues, Putin could try to work toward a few concrete, smaller objectives that would nonetheless be seen as a huge victory domestically were he to achieve them.

First among these is the return of Russian diplomatic compounds in New York and Maryland that Barack Obama said were used in intelligence gathering and closed down in response to the 2016 election interference.

The Russian foreign ministry pushed these facilities back into the spotlight by suddenly proclaiming last week that it was preparing retaliatory measures over their closure. In addition, a Russian embassy Twitter account said US facilities in Russia would be closed if Washington failed to restore them.

The return of the two compounds was reportedly among the deliverables Trump ordered aides to prepare ahead of his meeting with Putin, although the idea of offering such concessions has gratified fierce resistance in the state department and Congress.

Its seemingly a minor issue, but for Russia its very important as an indicator, the analyst Alexei Makarkin told. If[ Trump] is unable to reach an agreement with Russia about these buildings, then Russia will be disappointed and skeptical of what other agreements it can reach with him.

Another item Moscow has attempted to put back on the orders of the day before the session is the case of Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot who was arrested in a US-led narcotic bust in Liberia and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for conspiring to smuggle $100 m of cocaine into the United States. The deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told Izvestia newspaper on Monday that the United States had again denied Russias request to transfer Yaroshenko to his homeland.

This is among the key topics in our listing of unsolved problems in relations, as is a whole set of questions about illegal actions by American law enforcement organs, Ryabkov said.

Earlier this week, Izvestia reported that Yaroshenko had written to Trump, complaining of poor health and went on to say that Trumps intervention in the case would offer his last chance to return to Russia as a sane person.

If the two leaders do delve into more geopolitical questions, Putin will probably try to focus on issues on which Washington lawmakers could more conceivably cooperate. A Putin aide said this week that terrorism and nuclear weapons could be discussed.

The issue of strategic parity has long been gnawing at the Kremlin, especially after the United States activated a missile defense shield in Romania last year and began installing another one in Poland. Putin has argued the defense shield could be quickly modified into an offensive weapons system, calling it a threat to which Russia was obliged to take action in response to guarantee our security.

For its part, Moscow has deployed a nuclear-tipped cruise missile banned by the seminal 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces( INF) Treaty, US administration officials said in February. The reported violation contribute to growing pressure on Trump hanging in there from the agreements, a move that many experts say could trigger an arms race. Trump said in February he would bring up the issue with Putin when the two met.

Moscow has stood behind the treaty. A US exit from the bargain could trigger an limbs race and precisely nobody stands to win from that, Viktor Shamanov, head of the defense committee in parliament, warned last month. Vladimir Leontyev, deputy arms control head at the ministry of foreign affairs, said the United States leaving the bargain would be a big mistake that would greatly create military tensions in Europe.

A thinktank led by the former finance minister Alexei Kudrin, on whom Putin still occasionally relies for advice, said in a report last month that Russia not only should try to preserve the INF accord, but also work out a new nuclear arms reduction pact with Washington.

In a symbolic message to Putin and Trump, the sculptor Alexander Burganov unveiled a statue of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow on Monday to celebrate their work to cut nuclear arsenals under the INF treaty.

An official from the Russian foreign ministry attended the ceremony, which featured Russian singers struggling with English-language ballads such as My Country, Tis of Thee and a musical ode to Gorbachev. The US embassy in Moscow was not represented.

The organiser Edward Lozansky, an advocate for closer ties between Russia and the American right, said the ceremony was meant as a warning about the dangerous state in relations that could allow any run-in between ships or aircraft to rapidly escalate.

We want to send a message to Trump and Putin to go back and see how Reagan and Gorbachev were able to go from escalation, from the threat of nuclear war, to detecting some common speech, he said.

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