Putin, Trump To Talk By Phone On Saturday: "Getting Along With Russia Is A Great Thing"

Presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will have their first official discussions since the inauguration in a phone call planned for Saturday, the Kremlin said, a first step towards what Trump has billed as a normalization of relations after three years of tensions marked by open hostility during the Obama regime.

The two leaders are scheduled to exchange views on Russia-U.S. relations while Putin will congratulate Trump on his Jan. 20 inauguration, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call Friday cited by Bloomberg. Trump and Putin last spoke in November, when Putin rang Trump to congratulate him on winning the presidential election. Asked by reporters if Ukraine would come up, Peskov said: "This is the first telephone contact since President Trump took office, so one should hardly expect that this phone call will involve substantive discussions across the whole range of issues. We'll see, let's be patient."

Trump has said in the past that, as part of the rapprochement he is seeking with Russia, he is prepared to review the sanctions that Washington imposed on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula. Such a move is likely to face resistance from both domestic and foreign politicians, who argue sanctions should only be eased if Moscow complies with the West's conditions on Ukraine. Peskov said he had no information on reports that Trump is considering lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia imposed over the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

If Putin and Trump can establish a rapport, it could pave the way for deals on Ukraine and Syria, two sources of friction during the administration of Barack Obama according to Reuters.

Trump and Putin have never met and it was unclear how their very different personalities would gel. Trump is a flamboyant real estate deal-maker who often acts on gut instinct, while Putin is a former Soviet spy who calculates each step methodically.

Trump has repeatedly spoken about ending the enmity that has dragged U.S.-Russia relations to their lowest ebb since the Cold War. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News on Thursday night, Trump said it would be to the advantage of both Russia and the US to mend ties and pool their efforts in the fight against terrorism. “I don’t know Putin, but if we can get along with Russia that’s a great thing, it’s good for Russia, it’s good for us, we go out together and knock the hell out of ISIS, because that’s a real sickness,” he said.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with people? Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I am all for it," Trump told a news conference in July last year.

Putin, at a news conference in December, said he would reciprocate. "Mr Trump .... said he believes it's right to normalize Russian-American ties and said it definitely won't be any worse, because it couldn't be worse. I agree with him. Together we'll think about how to improve things."

For Putin there is much to gain: he is expected to run for re-election next year, but is hampered by a sluggish economy. A softening or removal of sanctions would allow Western investment and credit to flow in, lifting growth and strengthening Putin's election prospects. 

For Trump, a rapprochement with Russia carries political risks. Powerful Congressional figures say they will block any move to lift Ukraine-related sanctions.  That would displease some of Washington's European allies too. The source in Berlin familiar with plans for the Trump-Merkel call said it would be "unpleasant" if Trump were to lift sanctions against Russia, but added: "It doesn't mean that we go along." The European Union has its own set of sanctions against Russia that it imposed over Ukraine. Trump is also vulnerable to allegations at home of being too cozy with Moscow.

In addition to to his Saturday phone call with Putin, Trump will also have a telephone conversation the same day with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and that call is expected to focus on Russia, according to a Reuters source. Expect many tweets to follow both phone calls.