Vladimir Putin Sees Donald Trump as 'Weak' and 'Incoherent' After Phone Call in March, Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Says

Russian President Vladimir Putin may consider President Donald Trump weak or incoherent following a tirade Trump reportedly unleashed on Putin in March over a violent propaganda video, according to a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Alexander Vershbow, who served as an ambassador to both NATO and Russia for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, respectively, was responding to an Axios report released on Sunday, which claimed Trump ripped Putin over the phone for a video showing missiles striking Florida.

The same report, citing unnamed sources, indicated Trump was normally quite cordial with Putin, and that such anger toward the Russian leader was unprecedented.

According to Vershbow, Trump's rant likely did not have the effect on Putin he'd hoped. At the time of the call, March 20, Putin had just won re-election, and Trump reportedly congratulated Putin on his victory, despite aides explicitly telling him not to.

"I think Putin can only interpret this as signs of weakness or, at a minimum, incoherence, in the president's approach to the relationship," Vershbow told CNN on Monday.

He continued, "The president seems ready to sweep all of the difficult issues under the carpet, even the Russian military buildup that was displayed in that video with all these new 'wonder weapons' that Putin's very excited about."

The former ambassador stated that Trump could work with Putin to improve military relations between the two nuclear superpowers—especially when it came to Russia's recent and sudden aircraft tests near NATO allies—but that the president was unlikely to gain traction on other top issues.

"There may be some basis for limiting the arms race. That would be a good thing. The military side of the relationship very dangerous right now," Vershbow said. "We could certainly use to de-escalate the military side of the relationship, but solving problems like Ukraine, a more balanced approach to Syria, those are where I don't see the Russians meeting us even halfway."

"Putin can only interpret this as signs of either weakness or, at a minimum, incoherence," says Alexander Vershbow, fmr. US ambassador to Russia on reports of Trump's phone call to Putin in which he both criticized and congratulated the Russian leader https://t.co/h5k84GyG8R pic.twitter.com/SnuefIsqle

— New Day (@NewDay) July 16, 2018

The comments came as Trump and Putin held a summit in Helsinki on Monday. Both leaders first met one-on-one, with only interpreters present, then expanded the meeting to bilateral talks with other members of their respective staffs. Trump was joined by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton and others.

Trump and Putin are scheduled to hold a joint press conference after the talks.