United States President Donald Trump said Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin is neither friend or foe, days before they are to meet in Helsinki.
"He's not my enemy. 'Is he a friend?' No. I don't know him well enough, but the couple of times I have gotten to meet him, we got along very well," Trump said during a news conference Thursday at the NATO summit in Brussels.
Trump said Putin was a "competitor" and added, "hopefully someday, maybe he'll be a friend. It could happen, but I just don't know him very well."
The two leaders are scheduled to meet Monday in Helsinki, when Trump said he will raise the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, Russia's violations of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
"We go into that meeting not looking for so much," Trump said.
Asked if Putin again denies any Russian involvement in the election, Trump responded, "So all I can do is say, 'Did you?' and 'Don't do it again.' But he may deny. I mean, we'll — you'll — be the first to know, OK?"
NATO allies are skeptical about whether Trump will be firm enough with the Russian leader, who has denied the U.S. intelligence community's conclusion that Russia interfered in the election.
Trump also said he is "not happy" about Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and again blamed presidential predecessor Barack Obama for allowing it to occur.
"I would have not allowed it to happen, but he did allow it to happen," Trump said. "What will happen with Crimea from this point on? That, I can't tell you. But I'm not happy about Crimea."
On Wednesday, Trump criticized Germany for its ties with Russia.He said Britain's natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel's government "totally controlled" and "captive" to Russia.
Finnish National Defense University security policy expert Lt. Col. Jyri Raitasalo told VOA the Trump-Putin summit will be largely "symbolic."
"It could open up new negotiations on a lower level that could actually achieve something," Raitasalo said. He also said any real progress on issues the leaders discuss "could take time."
"In most cases, a couple of hours between heads of states that haven’t seen each other for a time and discussed things properly, you can’t achieve much in several hours. But it could be a good start.”