Russian leader Vladimir Putin invited U.S. President Donald Trump to attend 75th anniversary ceremonies marking the defeat of Nazi Germany, as the two leaders met for the first time in months in an attempt to improve deteriorating relations.
The June 28 meeting, held during a Group of 20 summit in Japan, got off to a bumpy start when Trump was asked by reporters whether the issue of election meddling would be discussed with Putin.
"Of course, I will," Trump responded, prompting what appeared to be an awkward smile from Putin.
Trump was then asked by a reporter if he would be telling Putin to stop interfering in U.S. elections, a conclusion reached by congressional lawmakers, intelligence agencies, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump then appeared to smirk slightly, as he pointed a finger at Putin and said: "Don’t meddle in the election."
The closed-door meeting between the two leaders was their first since Mueller’s report into Russian election interference was released in April.
The two spoke briefly on the phone a couple weeks after the release of the report, which found a "sweeping and systematic" effort by Russia to sway the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Relations between Moscow and Washington have plummeted to lows not seen since the Cold War, amid disputes over issues like Syria, Ukraine, Iran, Venezuela, and arms control treaties.
Despite the problematic relationship, the two have professed to have good personal relations.
According to the White House, the two discussed many of those outstanding issues during the 80-minute meeting.
"Both leaders agreed that improved relations between the United States and Russia was in each countries' mutual interest and the interest of the world," a White House statement said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin also invited Trump to visit Moscow next year to mark the anniversary of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The anniversary is all but a sacred holiday in Russia, and the Soviet victory has been emphasized even more heavily under Putin.
Peskov said Trump reacted positively to the invitation.
The meeting was the first face-to-face discussion since July in Helsinki, Finland, when Trump refused to allow advisers to join him and whose details he declined to share with Congress.
Trump canceled his last planned meeting with Putin in Argentina in November after Russia seized two Ukrainian vessels and their crew in the Sea of Azov. The two, though, did speak briefly on the sidelines of that event.
The 23 Ukrainian sailors remain in Russian custody. It was unclear if their plight came up during the Trump-Putin meeting.
Arms control has also plagued the relationship between Moscow and Washington in recent years.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty is set to expire in August after Washington accused Russia of violating it and effectively withdrew from the deal.
Moscow, which has also accused Washington of violating aspects of the treaty, has moved to withdraw from the pact as well.
The New START treaty, which limits the number of warheads, missiles, and other delivery systems, is due to expire in 2021 unless the two countries agree on an extension.
Trump administration officials have signaled they want to negotiate a new treaty that includes China.
In an interview with the Financial Times published on June 27, Putin said Russia hasn't seen any interest from the United States to extend New START.
"If we do not begin talks now, it would be over because there would be no time even for formalities," he said was quoted as saying.
According to the White House statement released after their meeting, Trump and Putin did discuss the question of the treaty.
"The Presidents agreed the two countries will continue discussion on a 21st century model of arms control, which President Trump stated as needing to include China," the statement said.
The U.S. and Russia are also at loggerheads over Iran and Venezuela, where the situation has deteriorated over the past several months. Both Tehran and Caracas are allies of the Kremlin and key markets for Russian weapons.
Trump is seeking the ouster of President Nicolas Maduro as the South American nation's economy spirals out of control. He has called on Russia to get its weapon specialists out of Venezuela.
"There will be pure chaos. How could they [U.S.] act like this?" Putin told the FT about possible regime change in Venezuela.