US President Donald Trump said today it was time to work “constructively” with Russia but ruled out easing sanctions while the countries remained at odds over the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.
In a series of tweets on his return from Europe, Mr Trump said he had confronted his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin over evidence from the US intelligence agencies that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election when the two leaders met for the first time in Germany on Friday.
And while he welcomed an agreement for the start of a ceasefire in Syria, Mr Trump said it was too early to consider any easing of US sanctions on Russia “until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved.”
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election,” President Trump said of their meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit. “He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…..”
Mr Trump said he and Mr Putin had talked about the idea of setting up what he called “an impenetrable cyber security unit” to prevent hacking in future elections, without giving details.
He also said the two men had discussed the implementation of a ceasefire in Syria which began on Sunday, saying “it will save lives.”
“Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
Syria has been a particular source of friction between the two countries, as Russia is a close ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
Moscow has warned that a programme of sanctions imposed by the US, which was tightened last month, threatens their whole relationship.
Mr Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama ordered the seizure of two Russian diplomatic compounds in the United States last December after accusing Russia of trying to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.
And last month, the United States added 38 individuals and entities to its sanctions list targeting the Russians and pro-Russian rebels it blames for the fighting in Ukraine.
“Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin. Nothing will be done until the Ukrainian & Syrian problems are solved,” said Mr Trump.
The US and Russian sides have issued sharply conflicting accounts of the meeting, with Putin saying on Saturday that Trump had been “satisfied” by his denials of any Russian interference in the polls.
President Putin said he expects Russian-US cooperation will improve under Mr Trump and that the American is “very different” in real life.
“The Trump that you see on TV is very different than the real Trump,” Mr Putin told reporters at the G20 in Germany.
“He perfectly understands whom he is talking to and answers questions quickly. I think personal relations were established.”
Mr Putin said he was positive about repairing US-Russian relations, which plunged during the era of president Barack Obama.
“There is every reason to believe that we will be able to at least partially re-establish the level of cooperation that we need,” Mr Putin told a news conference.
“I very much hope (for an improvement in relations) and it seems to me that some basis for this has already been created,” Putin said.
Putin said that in particular the US appeared to be less rigid on the war on Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad and Washington has sided with rebel groups.