US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been circling one another, intrigued yet at a distance, ever since the former real estate tycoon launched his convention-busting White House bid.
This week they will come face-to-face in one of the most keenly awaited meetings between two heads of state in years, one that is rich with political, geostrategic and personal storylines.
At the G20 summit in Germany, Trump will greet the man believed by US intelligence agencies to have conceived an intelligence plot to disrupt last year’s election and to help him take power.
Over the last four years, Trump has lavishly praised Putin, reviled by most of Washington as a US enemy; noted that the Russian leader has been “very nice” to him and denied his own previous claims that they have met before.
Putin, a former KGB officer who has put a bid to reassert Russian influence at the West’s expense at the center of his foreign policy, has described Trump as “bright and talented” but warned that America is in the grip of political “schizophrenia” over allegations that Trump had shared top secret information with visiting Russian officials.
The extraordinary circumstances and political implications of their talks in Hamburg will ensure that their meeting later this week, and any encounter before the cameras in less-formal moments of the G20, is highly scrutinized.
But there’s an added dimension to the encounter simply because it involves Putin and Trump.
Both men are well-known for using swaggering machismo at public appearances to intimidate opponents and project an image of strength, aware of the key role of body language in creating a political narrative.