Mr. Bolton has become the most critical driver of Russia policy, while the Defense and State Departments take a back seat, analysts said. Known as a Russia hawk in the past, Mr. Bolton lately has channeled the president. Asked about the Ukraine clash this week, Mr. Bolton offered no criticism, deferring to Nikki R. Haley, the departing ambassador to the United Nations, who previously condemned Russia’s “outlaw actions.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, would not say on Wednesday whether the meeting with Mr. Putin would be scrapped.
“The president is receiving regular briefings on the Russia-Ukraine situation from his national security team, including briefings Monday, Tuesday afternoon and again today,” she said in a statement. “We will keep you posted when there is additional public information or any policy announcements on this matter.”
But lawmakers have raised the temperature on the president, arguing that his approach has sent a signal that Mr. Putin can get away with whatever he wants. Without a more meaningful deterrence, they warned, Russia may effectively claim control of the Sea of Azov just as it annexed Crimea in 2014. A bipartisan group of senators introduced a resolution calling on Mr. Trump “to forcefully express opposition” to Russia’s aggression.
“Instead of giving Putin a free pass, President Trump should announce new sanctions against Russia, call for the immediate return of Ukrainian vessels and crewmen, and call off any planned meetings with Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G-20 summit,” said Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island.
Others said a meeting could still be useful, noting that presidents have met with leaders of hostile countries during times of tension if only to use the conversations to press for actions to defuse the tension. The question remains what Mr. Trump wants.
“You can make the argument that you should keep the dialogue going,” said Ms. Stent, who is now director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University. “But we’re not seeing anything they would call deliverables from these meetings.”