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Trump, Putin Call Raises Questions About Possible In-Person Meeting

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And we begin with overtures between Russian President Vladimir Putin and two world leaders - first a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then a phone call with President Donald Trump.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

This was the first call between Trump and Putin since the U.S. attacked a Syrian air base last month that had angered Russia, which has been fighting alongside the Syrian regime. The White House says the two leaders talked about working together to achieve peace in Syria and about the situation in North Korea.

SIEGEL: Trump and Putin also agreed that they would try to meet face-to-face in July during a summit of world leaders in Germany. To learn how Russians are viewing the relationship between the two presidents so far, I spoke earlier via Skype with Konstantin von Eggert of the independent Russian TV station Dozhd. And I asked him whether the fact that the two leaders were talking was politically valuable to Mr. Putin.

KONSTANTIN VON EGGERT: Well, to the extent that the Kremlin can claim via its propaganda outlets that essentially Trump is listening to Putin, Trump is very much interested in dealing with Putin, I don't think that Vladimir Putin cares for American politicians apart from Trump himself and probably Secretary Tillerson. No, his whole legitimacy in Russia is based on him being seen as a strong leader who is respected by Russian adversaries. And of course among Russia's adversaries, America is number one if you look at Russian TV, which is brainwashing the Russian people 24/7.

SIEGEL: Would the lifting or the easing of sanctions on Russia - would that be the prime objective of Russia in terms of its U.S. policy these days?

VON EGGERT: I don't think that it will be the prime objective. I think that at the current level of sanctions, the Russian political class, Putin himself, are pretty used to living in such conditions. Putin would like America to accept at least partially his view of the situation in Syria, his view of NATO enlargement, his view of ballistic missile defense in Europe and, finally and most importantly, his view of the Russian-Ukrainian war. It may be that on certain issues, Moscow and Washington will see eye to eye for a short time, but I do not see this kind of big, warm understanding, big, warm detente, if you wish, coming up anytime soon.

SIEGEL: I just wanted to ask you about the triangular relationship since President Putin is also speaking with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. The U.S. says urge the Germans to spend more money on defense. Russia has a historical concern about the degree of German armament. How complicated is that relationship?

VON EGGERT: Well, I don't think that Russia cares that much about German army because German Constitution is very peaceful, and I think that the German armed forces are not the most proficient among NATO allies in this respect. But I think the most important thing is that Russia doesn't care or is not concerned that much about NATO's military muscle at least until now. It's more concerned about its political outreach, about Ukraine and Georgia wanting to join the alliance.

It's more of a political question because NATO serves as this kind of all-weather boogeyman for the Kremlin propaganda domestically. And standing up to NATO is one of those things that people in Russia like about Putin. So in this respect, NATO is more of a political adversary than a purely military adversary because I don't think that any Russian generals sit there, scratching their heads and think, how can we prevent Polish tanks rolling into Smolensk? I don't think that will happen.

SIEGEL: Konstantin von Eggert of the independent Russian television station TV Dozhd speaking to us from Moscow. Thank you.

VON EGGERT: Oh, yeah, a pleasure talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.