President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, marking what will be the first formal summit between the two leaders.
The meeting comes at a complex time for Russo-American relations: Russia has been accused of meddling in American elections and continues to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but Trump has cozied up to Putin regardless, at the expense of his relationship with more traditional U.S. allies.
Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is a logical choice for the Trump-Putin meeting, both because of the historic role it has played in U.S.-Russian (or Soviet) relations and for the logistical concerns of both leaders.
Here are five reasons why Helsinki makes sense as a location for the summit.
It was the site of the Helsinki Accords
In 1975, U.S. President Gerald Ford met with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, along with representatives of 33 other states in Europe and North America, to sign the Helsinki Accords, a declaration of shared intent to improve relations between communist and capitalist states during the depths of the Cold War.
Although not binding, the agreement came to represent “detente,” or a cooling of relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then the world’s most powerful nuclear-armed superpowers.
While relations between the United States and Russia aren’t quite as hostile as they were back then, Helsinki’s history in this regard make it a clear choice for a summit between leaders of the two countries.
George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev met in Helsinki
In 1990, just before the collapse of the Soviet Union, President George H. W. Bush met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Helsinki to discuss the world’s latest crisis: Escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf, which would eventually lead to the first Gulf War.
Mindful of the Soviet leader’s increasing difficulties at home and Russian citizens’ aversion to foreign entanglements after a drawn-out campaign in Afghanistan, Bush ultimately did not ask Gorbachev to commit troops to the multinational force being assembled to confront Saddam Hussein.
“Here in Helsinki, President Gorbachev and I meet, hopefully to strengthen our common approach to this unjustifiable act of aggression,” Bush said upon landing in Finland. Their meeting offers yet another historical precedent for Finland as a site where American and Russian leaders have come together in the past.
Finland isn’t part of NATO
Finland is neutral territory for Trump and Putin in the sense that it’s not a member of NATO, a military alliance founded in the wake of World War II to protect Europe from potential Soviet aggression. During most of the Cold War, Finland attempted a balancing act between East and West, though the U.S.S.R. certainly exercised a degree of influence on its Nordic neighbor.
Finland’s non-NATO status also offers Trump the chance to make the kind of symbolic gesture that carries significant weight in international relations: He’ll be leaving NATO territory to meet with Putin, a move that will underscore his recent criticisms of NATO leaders as he pressures them to increase their defense spending and thus lighten the American load.
Trump will already be in Europe
History aside, there are also practical reasons that make Helsinki a good choice. In the days running up to the meeting, Trump will already be in Europe — first for the NATO summit in Brussels, and then for his long-delayed visit to Britain. That makes it logistically easier for Trump to meet with Putin on the continent, as well as afford him the aforementioned symbolism of leaving NATO turf for his Putin powwow.
And Putin has to be in Russia the day before
The 2018 FIFA World Cup, currently underway in Russia, will end in Moscow on July 15 — the day before the scheduled summit between Trump and Putin. Helsinki is less than a two-hour flight from Moscow, making it a convenient location for Putin as well.
The savvy Russian leader may also see a one-two propaganda punch in the making, as he’ll be able to close out one of the world’s most closely-watched sporting events and then meet with Trump the very next day in a summit that, just like the soccer tournament, will be broadcast globally.
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