Brighton Beach Russians wary of Trump-Putin meeting in Germany
The men sipping coffee in this Brighton Beach cafe have mixed emotions about the world leaders shaking hands on the television above the cash register.
Like many here in the heart of New York City’s Russian community, they adore President Donald Trump. And at the same time, they are deeply skeptical of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Shaking hands with President Putin is like holding a cobra in his hands,” said Efes Cafe co-owner Michael Rubinsteyn, as grainy images from Trump’s Friday meeting with Putin flashed on the TV behind him.
“Putin is a crook like Hillary Clinton,” continued Rubinsteyn, 68, who fled Russia as a refugee four decades ago. “Trump is trying to do something good.”
This corner of New York City along the boardwalks of Brighton Beach and Coney Island is home to thousands of emigres from the former Soviet bloc. Storefronts along Brighton Beach Avenue feature signs in Russian, the first language for many residents of this working-class neighborhood.
It’s also one of the few parts of the city that backed Trump for president.
Yet as the rain fell late Friday morning, there was little sign that this community was excited about Trump and Putin’s much-anticipated first meeting. Several patrons ordered coffee or pastries inside Efes Cafe without noticing coverage of the history-making meeting on the television in front of them.
When asked, a handful of Russian immigrants opened up about a meeting they viewed as a positive step in relations between two world powers — even if they don’t trust the Russian president.
“The entire world is watching this. Smart people shake hands and sit at the table and talk,” said Boris Milman, 60, who drank coffee as he waited to open his clothing store down the street.
Having moved to the United States from Russia 27 years ago, Milman proudly declared his allegiance to Trump: “I love him. I voted for him. He’s a businessman.”
“Putin came from the KGB,” he said. “I don’t like him too much.”
In Germany, where world leaders gathered for the G-20 Summit, Trump said he and the Russian leader were holding “very, very good talks.” The American president appeared informal and relaxed and said it was “an honor” to be with Putin.
On Brighton Beach Avenue, attorney Arthur Arcadian contemplated the politics of the meeting as he puffed a cigarette in the doorway of his law office, whose sign was almost exclusively in Russian.
Trump is in “a more complicated situation than Putin,” said Arcadian, 38, who suggested that Trump can’t come across too friendly with Russia because of the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered to try to help Trump win, although Trump said this week without evidence that other countries could have meddled, too.
Politics aside, Arcadian said the Trump-Putin meeting was a positive development.
“I absolutely believe it’s good,” he said. “It’s two of the biggest, most powerful countries. Those contacts are helpful.”
Indeed, Rubinsteyn believes it’s better for the countries to get along. And he trusts Trump to outsmart Putin.
“Putin knows Trump is not phony baloney. He knows negotiation is in his blood,” Rubinsteyn said.
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