Donald Trump, Putin discuss oil price plunge, coronavirus threat

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin discussed plunging oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic on Monday, the Kremlin said, as Trump said Moscow is pressing for an end to US sanctions.

The two “expressed serious concern regarding the scope of the spread of the coronavirus” and “discussed closer cooperation,” a brief Kremlin statement said. Trump announced he’d be using the call to raise objections over a Russian-Saudi price war driving down world oil prices and “really hurting” the US energy industry.

“We don’t want to have a dead industry,” Trump told Fox News in an interview shortly before talking to Putin. “This is a fight between Saudi Arabia and Russia … and they both went crazy.” “I never thought I’d be saying that maybe we have to have an oil (prices) increase, because we do,” Trump said.

The Kremlin statement after the call merely said they had “exchanged opinions” on the oil market. Trump also told Fox he expected Putin would use the call to push for a lifting of US sanctions on Russia.

“He’ll probably ask for that,” Trump told Fox News. “He’s been asking that for two years.” The Kremlin statement did not mention sanctions, but said unspecified “certain issues” of bilateral relations were aired.

Trump did not say what his response would be, noting that he had put sanctions on Russia but adding: “They don’t like that. Frankly we should be able to get along.” The bulk of US sanctions against Russia were imposed over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine and what US investigators say was a concerted attempt to interfere in the 2016 presidential election won by Trump.

Last Thursday, Putin told G20 leaders during a conference call that he wanted a moratorium on sanctions as a “matter of life and death” during the global coronavirus outbreak.  In the comments Putin did not specify which countries he was talking about but Russia is being hit hard by the economic fallout from coronavirus and the parallel oil price drop.

Another point of US-Russian contention is Venezuela, where Washington, supported by dozens of other countries, has been trying unsuccessfully to promote the toppling of leftist strongman Nicholas Maduro. Russia is one of the few countries propping up his government. “We may discuss that too,” Trump said.

Russian state oil company Rosneft said it is pulling out of Venezuela and argued that US sanctions on a Rosneft subsidiary — imposed as part of Washington’s attempt to cripple the Maduro government’s revenue sources — should now be lifted. However, Russia remains a key partner to Caracas. Trump has often resisted punishing Moscow, which denies meddling in US politics, but his hand on imposing sanctions was forced by his own Republican party in Congress, which sees the Putin government as hostile. The warm relationship between Trump and Putin — seen by many Western capitals as an increasingly authoritarian leader responsible for assassinations of opponents at home and abroad — has been a constant source of controversy in the United States.

In his Fox interview, Trump dismissed reports that Russia and China are seeking to exploit the coronavirus disruption by planting disinformation aimed at putting the United States in a bad light.  “They do it and we do it,” he said, calling The Washington Post newspaper, which recently reported on the issue, “fake.” “Every country does it,” he said.

Trump then questioned why Russia was considered an enemy by many in the West. As he has often in the past, he again also cast doubt on what was for decades the rock solid transatlantic alliance between the United States and Germany.  “I’m not saying they’re babies, I’m not saying they’re perfect,” he said of the Russians. “But you know they also fought World War II, they lost 50 million people.

They were our partner and now we don’t talk to Russia, we talk to Germany.” “Germany was the enemy and Germany is like this wonderful thing. Well, Germany takes advantage of us on trade for years. They pay far too little in Nato.”

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