They were joined later by aides for an expanded meeting that is scheduled to last another two hours.
“I think it’s a good start. Very, very good start for everybody,” Trump said at the start of the expanded meeting.
Trump had tongues wagging ahead of the summit with his criticism on Twitter of past administrations, which he blamed for the poor U.S.-Russia relationship.
Trump also pointed to the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, blaming the “Rigged Witch Hunt” for the poor ties with Russia.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted
, referring to the special counsel’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
Trump’s tweet was remarkable given the views of many Republicans and Democrats alike that actions by Putin and Russia are to blame for why the United States and Russia do not get along.
Russia was condemned in the United States for its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the U.S. and Russia have also battled over Moscow’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in that country’s years-long civil war, among other issues.
The intelligence community has also found that Moscow interfered in the U.S. presidential election, and 12 Russian nationals were indicted on Friday for their alleged role in hacking the Democratic National Committee.
Trump has repeatedly disparaged the special counsel’s investigation of the election, and his tweet was consistent with past arguments he has made about what he sees as a witch hunt.
Trump has in recent weeks repeatedly blamed the issue on the Obama administration and left the door open to recognizing Russia’s claim on Crimea.
“Long before I got here President Obama allowed that to happen, that was under his watch, not my watch,” Trump told reporters during last week’s NATO summit. “What will happen with Crimea from this point on? That, I can’t tell you.”
While the Trump administration has maintained tough policies toward Russia — including sanctions and the expulsion of dozens of diplomats in response to the British poisonings — the president himself has often undercut those practices with friendly rhetoric, raising concerns among some lawmakers that he may concede too much in his meeting with Putin.
The meeting takes place after Trump roiled allies
at a NATO summit in Brussels last week by complaining about allies’ defense spending. He also took direct aim at Germany, asserting that the country was “captive to Russia
” because of a gas pipeline deal the two nations struck.
Trump’s testy attitude toward NATO allies raised eyebrows ahead of his summit with Putin, as the alliance seeks to defend Baltic states bordering Russia.
The two leaders began their meeting nearly 50 minutes late after Putin’s delayed arrival in Finland, forcing Trump to cool his heels at his hotel. The Russian leader has been known to keep his counterparts off balance by showing up late to meetings.
The two posed for photos with expressionless faces in an ornate room inside the Finnish presidential palace before sitting down to deliver brief remarks. They shook hands only after each man spoke.
The two men will conclude the summit with a joint press conference before Trump departs for a return trip to Washington, D.C.
Before the meeting, Trump predicted that he might not make much progress at the summit.
“I go in with very low expectations. I think that getting along with Russia is a good thing. But it’s possible we won’t,” Trump told CBS News ahead of the meeting.