U.S. Presidents and Their First Dates With Russia

Four decades of getting-to-know-you.

The first meeting with a Russian leader has been a key political test for U.S. presidents at least since John F. Kennedy’s rocky debut with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna in 1961. As Trump and Putin prepare to meet in Hamburg, here’s a look at presidential first dates over the last few decades.

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin meet in Novo Ogaryovo, Russia on July 7, 2009.
Photographer: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin

Moscow, July 7, 2009

Over breakfast on the veranda at his residence outside Moscow, Putin lectured Obama for nearly an hour on alleged U.S. misdeeds toward Russia.

“I don’t have a bad personal relationship with Putin. [...] I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is, is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.” —Obama, August 2009

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin meet at Brdo Castle near Ljubjana, Slovenia on June 16, 2001.
Photographer: Alain Buu/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin

Slovenia, June 16, 2001

With the world wondering what to make of the new Russian leader, who took office only the year before, Bush came away confident.

“I looked the man in the eye. I found him very straightforward and trustworthy—I was able to get a sense of his soul.” —Bush at the closing press conference

Vladimir Putin walks with Bill Clinton in the Kremlin, Moscow, on June 4, 2000.
Photographer: Dirck Halstead/Liaison

Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin

Moscow, June 3-4, 2000

The outgoing U.S. president met the newcomer in Moscow amid growing tensions in the relationship over foreign and domestic policy.

“If you want to know what my personal assessment is, I think he is fully capable of building a prosperous, strong Russia, while preserving freedom and pluralism and the rule of law.” —Clinton at the closing press conference

Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin during a press conference at the Vancouver Summit on April 4, 1993.
Photographer: Larry Downing/Sygma via Getty Images

Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin

Vancouver, Apr. 3-4, 1993

The foreign policy novice from Washington met Yeltsin, who was struggling with economic collapse and political opposition at home. The U.S. announced a $1.6 billion aid package, including food, for Russia.

“The heroic deeds of Boris Yeltsin and the Russian people launched their reforms toward democracy and market economies and defended them valiantly during the dark days of August of 1991. Now it is the self-interest and the high duty of all the world’s democracies to stand by Russia’s democratic reforms in their new hour of challenge.

“We actively support reform and reformers and you in Russia.” —Clinton at the closing press conference

George H.W. Bush shares a joke with Mikhail Gorbachev on Dec. 3, 1989.
Photographer: Jonathan Utz/AFP via Getty Images

George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev

Malta, Dec. 2-3, 1989

Bush’s first meeting with Gorbachev as president came after the fall of the Berlin wall and was seen as marking the formal end of the Cold War.

“We can realize a lasting peace and transform the East-West relationship to one of enduring co-operation. That is the future that Chairman Gorbachev and I began right here in Malta.” —Bush at the closing press conference

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev meet in Geneva, on Nov. 19, 1985.
Photographer: Scott Stewart/AP Photo

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev

Geneva, Nov. 19-20, 1985

The two leaders conducted over 15 hours of sometimes-tense talks which gave little hint of the massive geopolitical shifts that would follow.

“I can’t claim that we had a meeting of the minds on such fundamentals as ideology or national purpose, but we understand each other better, and that’s a key to peace.” —Reagan to Congress on his return