Trump Cancels G-20 Meeting With Putin Over Russian Capture of Ukrainian Sailors

Kremlin says Trump's move hasn't been confirmed, but if true, Putin will have a few more hours for 'useful meetings' on G-20 sidelines

FILE Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, July 16, 2018.
AFP

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday suddenly canceled a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled for this week's Group of 20 industrialized nations summit in Argentina, citing the current Ukraine crisis. 

"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!" Trump tweeted after departing for the G20 summit. 

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Trump's tweet was a sudden turnaround. Roughly an hour earlier, he had told reporters he would probably meet with Putin at the summit and said it was "a very good time to have the meeting." 

But Trump had also said he would get a final report during the flight to Argentina on the tension in the region after Russia seized Ukrainian vessels near Crimea on Sunday. 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was reported saying in Interfax news agency that they have no official information of Trump's decision to cancel the meeting. The spokesman added that if the bilateral meeting is cancelled, Putin, who is currently on his way to Argentina, will have a couple of extra hours for "useful meetings" on the sidelines of the G-20 summit.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised Trump for canceling the meeting, tweeting "This is how great leaders act." 

Earlier on Thursday, Poroshenko accused Putin of wanting to annex his entire country and called for NATO to deploy warships to a sea shared by the two nations.

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Poroshenko's comments to German media were part of a concerted push by Kiev to gain Western support for more sanctions against Moscow, securing tangible Western military help, and rallying opposition to a Russian gas pipeline that threatens to deprive Ukraine of important transit revenues. 

His Western allies have so far not offered to provide any of these things, despite his warnings of a possible Russian invasion after Moscow seized three Ukrainian naval ships and their crews on Sunday near Crimea. 

Moscow and Kiev blame each other for the incident, which took place in the narrow Kerch Strait off Crimea, the Ukrainian region annexed by Russia in 2014. 

"Don't believe Putin's lies," Poroshenko told Bild, Germany's biggest-selling paper, comparing Russia's protestations of innocence in the affair to Moscow's 2014 denial that it had soldiers in Crimea even as they moved to annex it. 

"Putin wants the old Russian empire back," he said. "Crimea, Donbass, the whole country. As Russian tsar, as he sees himself, his empire cannot function without Ukraine. He sees us as his colony." 

Russia has charged that the Ukrainian vessels had failed to obtain permission to pass from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait between Russia's mainland and the Crimean Peninsula it annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukraine insisted that its vessels were operating in line with international maritime rules.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she plans to press Putin at this weekend's G-20 summit in Argentina to urge the release of the ships and crews.

"We can only resolve this in talks with one another because there is no military solution to all of these conflicts," she said.

NATO said it already has a strong presence in the Black Sea region. The alliance's spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said NATO ships routinely patrol and exercise in the Black Sea, and that they have spent 120 days there this year compared to 80 in 2017.

She noted that several NATO allies conduct air policing and reconnaissance flights in the region, adding that members Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey border the Black Sea and have their own military equipment deployed.

"There is already a lot of NATO in the Black Sea, and we will continue to assess our presence in the region," Lungescu said.

While NATO condemned the Russian action, the alliance is not expected to send ships into the Sea of Azov, a deployment that could trigger a confrontation with Russia. A 2003 treaty between Russia and Ukraine stipulates that permission from both countries is required for warships from others to enter the internal sea.