Donald Trump has announced he is cancelling his scheduled meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit over the recent naval confrontation between Moscow and Ukraine.
The Trump administration has laid blame for the clash – in which Russia seized a number of crew from a Ukrainian ship – squarely at the feet of the Kremlin.
Russian officials said earlier on Thursday that the meeting had been confirmed by the White House – but Mr Trump had mused earlier this week that the meeting could be cancelled over the clash in the Sea of Azov between Russia and Ukraine. Before boarding his flight to the G20 summit, Mr Trump had told reporters on Thursday that he still planned on meeting with Mr Putin in Argentina. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Air Force One that the president decided to cancel the meeting after taking off for Argentina.
“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.
After the Russian ships fired on and seized three Ukrainian boats on Sunday, the Ukrainian government labelled the move as an “act of aggression”, and made the rare move of imposing martial law in parts of the country. Russian officials said that the Ukrainian boats had illegally entered Russian waters.
Mr Trump had previously said that he was awaiting a “full report” on the incident, and a State Department spokesperson had 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.
At the G20 — an annual summit between world leaders, central bank governors, and foreign ministers — the president is already expected to keep a tight schedule, and the result of meetings there could have an important impact on Mr Trump’s foreign policy goals.
Of those meetings that are considered to be among the most important for the president are 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, South Korea President Moon Jae-in, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The president’s departure for Argentina from the White House on Thursday came just hours after the latest development in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, with Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer pleading on Thursday morning in New York that he lied to Congress about contacts he had related to a Trump development project in Russia. That attorney, Michael Cohen, was once considered to be the president’s “fixer”, but has been cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe for months after he pleaded earlier this year to federal charges including campaign finance violations in which he paid two women hush money for the president during the 2016 campaign.
Cohen said in his plea agreement on Thursday that he had lied to Congress about the Moscow project in order to separate the deliberations over that deal from political milestones including the Iowa caucuses in 2016 and the Republican primaries that year.
The president, before departing for Argentina, called Cohen “weak”, and said that he decided not to pursue th deal on his own — but maintained that he would have done nothing wrong if he had chosen to go through with the deal.