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Trump cancels G20 meeting with Putin over Russia-Ukraine crisis

The president had said just before boarding his flight that he planned on meeting with the Russian president

Clark Mindock
New York
Thursday 29 November 2018 17:40 GMT
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Mr Trump is in Argentina this week for the G20 meeting and had originally planned on meeting with Mr Putin
Mr Trump is in Argentina this week for the G20 meeting and had originally planned on meeting with Mr Putin (Getty Images)

Donald Trump has cancelled his scheduled meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit over the recent naval confrontation between Moscow and Ukraine.

Trump administration officials have blamed the clash – in which Russian border guards fired on three Ukrainian ships and seized a number of crew – squarely at the feet of the Kremlin.

Russian officials said earlier on Thursday that the meeting had been confirmed by the White House despite the clash in the Sea of Azov off the Crimean Peninsula on Sunday. Before boarding his flight to the summit in Argentina, Mr Trump had told reporters that he still planned on meeting with Mr Putin. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders later told reporters on Air Force One that the president decided to cancel the meeting after taking off.

“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday, announcing his decision.

The Ukrainian government labelled the Crimean incident as an “act of aggression”, and made the rare move to impose martial law in parts of the country that could be under threat from a Russian attack. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, sparking international condemnation and sanctions.

Russian officials said that the Ukrainian boats had illegally entered Russian waters.

Mr Trump’s decision also comes as a US federal investigation into Russian election meddling and potential Trump campaign ties to Moscow is intensifying. Mr Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump real estate project in Russia.

Mr Trump has previously said that he was awaiting a “full report” on the incident, and a State Department spokesperson has said that the US would like to see tougher enforcement of sanctions on Russia.

The two world leaders were expected to discuss security, arms control, and circumstances in the Middle East and Ukraine.

Mr Trump’s announcement appeared to catch Moscow by surprise, with Russian officials getting their first news of it from the media.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov told RIA news agency that Mr Putin regretted Mr Trump’s decision and said Russia is ready for contact with him.

“A cancellation means that the discussion on key international issues is being postponed indefinitely,” Mr Peskov said.

Mr Trump based his move on advice from senior advisers who have taken a harsher tone towards Russia than he has. He was briefed on Air Force One by secretary of state Mike Pompeo, White House chief of staff John Kelly and national security adviser John Bolton, White House spokeswoman Ms Sanders said.

Earlier, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko accused Mr Putin of wanting to annexe his entire country and called for Nato to deploy warships to a sea shared by the two nations. German chancellor Angela Merkel, who was delayed after the aircraft she was travelling on made an emergency landing in Cologne because of a technical problem, also blamed Russia.

Ms Merkel accused Russia of restricting access to the Sea of Azov by building a bridge over the Kerch Strait

Speaking alongside Ukrainian prime minister Volodymyr Groysman in Berlin early on Thursday, she said the latest crisis was “entirely the doing of the Russian president” and accused Moscow of violating a 2003 agreement guaranteeing free movement in the area.

“I want the Ukrainian soldiers released,” she said. “The Ukrainian side has asked us to act wisely. There is no military solution to these problems.”

 

At the G20 – an annual summit between world leaders, central bank governors, and foreign ministers – President Trump is expected to keep a tight schedule.

The most important of a number of meetings include a planned dinner with Chinese president Xi Jinping. Mr Trump has attempted to exert financial pressure on China in recent months through tariffs on Chinese imports, and has suggested that a deal needs to be made in Argentina to avoid further tariffs from being imposed. As the president has ramped up those tariffs, the Chinese have responded in kind with tariffs on goods including American soybeans going into China – an important market for US farmers that is all but cut off as a result of the harsh tariffs.

In addition to that meeting with Mr Xi, Mr Trump was also expected to meet with Argentine president Mauricio Macri, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and Ms Merkel. Meetings with South Korea president Moon Jae-in and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have been downgraded from formal to informal.

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As well as the potential trade war between the US and China, the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul Consulate and the conflict over Ukraine threaten to overshadow the gathering, let alone Mr Trump’s “America First policies. The two-day summit beginning Friday is supposed to focus on development, infrastructure and food security, but those seemed largely an afterthought.

However,  French president Emmanuel Macron, who flew into Buenos Aires on Wednesday as one of the earliest arrivers, clung to the importance of the ideal of cooperation that the G20 represents.

“I believe in our capacity to make the spirit of dialogue and cooperation triumph,” Mr Macron said at a joint news conference with Mr Macri, warning that if nations “close down”, the alternative could be trade wars or armed conflict. 

Associated Press contributed to this report

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