Donald Trump cancels Putin meeting at G-20 meeting
President Trump said Thursday he is canceling plans to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin because of escalating military tension in Crimea.
The announcement tweeted from Air Force One en route to the G-20 summit in Argentina was an abrupt reversal of comments just 40 minutes earlier, when Mr. Trump said he would probably go through with the meeting.
“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,” the president said in a series of tweets.
He added, “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”
During the flight, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that Mr. Trump’s formal meetings with Turkey and South Korea also had been canceled and Mr. Trump will instead speak informally with leaders at the summit.
It was unclear whether meetings with South Korea and Turkey were downgraded or the White House mischaracterized the nature of those meetings when announcing them Tuesday.
Regardless, Mr. Trump’s shifting schedule provided an inauspicious start on his trip abroad.
The announcement took the Kremlin by surprise.
Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news services that the Kremlin learned of the cancellation from Mr. Trump’s tweet and had not received formal notification.
Mr. Peskov said that if the meeting was off, then Mr. Putin would have “a couple more hours” for “useful meetings” with other leaders.
Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin was on his way to Argentina.
Tensions between Russia and Ukraine, a U.S. ally, escalated in Crimea after Russia fired on Ukrainian vessels on Sunday.
As he left the White House about 40 minutes earlier, Mr. Trump said he wanted to read the final report during the flight about the incident.
Mr. Trump made the decision aboard Air Force One after he conferred in person with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and by phone with National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, who is in Brazil.
Mrs. Sanders described the decision-making process to reporters traveling with the president.
The clash of ships near Crimea in the Kerch Strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov sparked fears of war.
Kiev and Moscow blamed each other for the incident in which Russia’s coast guard fired on and seized three Ukrainian vessels.
Ukraine leaders warned Tuesday that a full-scale military confrontation with Russia was possible.
Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said canceling the meeting was the wrong move.
“This was [Mr. Trump’s] opportunity to redeem himself, stand up for American values, stand up for international law, stand up for our own national security interests, and he had that opportunity and instead he’s abdicating it.” he said on CNN. “It is ironic that this president cannot find his spine to confront Vladimir Putin but can challenge the closest allies the United States has across the globe.”
Mr. Trump weathered the similar criticism of going soft on Mr. Putin when the two leaders met at a July summit in Helsinki.
Relations between Washington and Moscow have been badly strained since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The bad blood between the U.S. and Russia only worsened with Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its implication in the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy this year in the U.K.
Following Sunday’s maritime clash in the waters surrounding Crimea, the Putin meeting remained on Mr. Trump’s scheduled for the G-20 summit, which opens Friday.
The president’s summit schedule still includes meetings with leaders of Argentina, Germany, Japan and India.
The biggest meeting, however, will be a Saturday night dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping where trade will top the agenda.